VIDEO: Amid Harassment Furor, Cain Visits Capitol Hill
Candidate won’t say whether he will try to end confidentiality restrictions on accusers
Laurie Kellman and Kasie Hunt The Associated Press
November 02, 2011ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- Herman Cain is refusing to say whether he will ask his former employer - the National Restaurant Association - to terminate confidentiality restrictions on women who accused him of sexual harassment in the 1990s while he was head of the trade group.
The Skanner News Video: Harassment Claims Dog Campaign
The Republican presidential candidate was in Virginia to give a speech to doctors about health care but he couldn't escape the questions that have dogged him since the allegations surfaced three days ago.
He told a media throng: "Don't even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about, okay? Don't even bother."
When reporters continued to ask questions, Cain's voice rose as he said testily: "What did I say? Excuse me. Excuse me!
His campaign manager Mark Block said he would address the questions "when it's appropriate."
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Dogged by sexual harassment allegations from the 1990s, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is trying to project an image of campaign business as usual Wednesday even as the lawyer for one of his accusers seeks to free her from a confidentiality agreement so she can tell her side of the story.
The pressure on Cain only increased when a pillar of the GOP establishment suggested that the Georgia businessman should ask the National Restaurant Association to waive the agreement so that the woman can talk openly about her allegations.
"What are the facts?" asked Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on MSNBC. "If you have a confidentiality agreement that keeps the public from finding out something that the public is interested in knowing the facts, you ought to go on and get the facts out."
"Herman Cain's interest is getting this behind him," added Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman.
The former Godfather's Pizza CEO is his third day of trying to control the fallout of the disclosure of years-old allegations that came two months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses and just as polls show him at the head of the GOP field alongside former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
A former talk show host, Cain is a self-styled political outsider who has attracted tea party support and, for now at least, weathered a series of stumbles that have many GOP luminaries questioning his ability to run a viable campaign much less win the party's nomination. Conversely, Romney is running his second national campaign and has spent the past few weeks shoring up support among the GOP establishment for a nomination fight many Republican insiders think is his to lose.
For Cain, Wednesday was supposed to be the culmination of a three-day attempt at courting official Washington - and the GOP old guard that seems to be tilting ever more toward Romney. He was giving a speech on health care in northern Virginia before heading to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional Republicans
But Cain found himself confronted with the fallout from the disclosure that at least two female employees got financial payouts from the National Restaurant Association after complaining that Cain, who led the trade group at the time, had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.
Joel P. Bennett, the lawyer for one of two women, said in media interviews Tuesday that he had asked the trade group to waive an agreement and allow her to talk openly about her allegations and to respond to Cain's claims that the complaints were "totally baseless and totally false."
"I know her very well," he told CNN late Tuesday, "and I'm sure she would not make a false complaint."
Bennett told The Associated Press he would have more to say after he meets with his client Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for the restaurant association, Sue Hensley, said Tuesday night that the group had not been contacted by Bennett.
Over the past two days, Cain has admitted he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He has said the woman initially asked for a large financial settlement but ultimately received two to three months' pay as part of a separation agreement. Cain also acknowledged remembering one of the woman's accusations against him, saying he stepped close to her to make a reference to her height, and told her she was the same height as his wife.
He has said he is not aware of agreements or settlements with any other women, though Politico - which first disclosed the allegations - reported that the trade group had given settlements to at least two female employees who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
The New York Times reported Tuesday night that the trade group gave a female employee a year's salary in severance pay, $35,000, after she said an encounter with Cain made her uncomfortable working there. The newspaper cited three people with knowledge of the payment to the woman, who was not Bennett's client.
Surging atop the polls only two months before Republicans begin choosing their presidential nominee, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO scheduled a tour of Washington this week to introduce himself to the nation's power brokers and show he is ready for high office.
But, the night before his first appearances Monday, Politico reported the years-old sexual harassment complaints against him.
Since then, Cain has offered a series of sometimes-conflicting statements over what happened and didn't happen, and what he knew about financial payouts.
He has repeatedly denied he ever harassed anyone but has struggled to remain consistent on the details. He first denied remembering the specifics of the complaints, then offered up some details of an incident in which a woman apparently had trouble with a hand gesture he says he used to compare her height to that of his wife, Gloria. He said in interviews that the details had come back to him during an intense day of questioning.
By Tuesday night, Cain had begun to try to pivot toward Congress and the war for lawmakers' endorsements that could mean critical on-the-ground support and campaign cash. Cain's rival in Iowa, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has a sophisticated network of surrogates in Congress trying to coax their colleagues into his camp. So far, they've rounded up at least 33 endorsements. Cain has none.
But lawmakers remained interested.
The delegation from Cain's home state, Georgia, helped set up a series of private events intended to introduce Cain around Capitol Hill.
Cain dined near the Capitol with a gathering of Republican senators Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, after a speech in nearby Alexandria, Va., Cain was to head back to Capitol Hill for a speech to House members on health care.
From there, it was back-to-back events set up by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. First, Cain was to meet and greet House members at the discreet Capitol Hill Club for a conversation about health care policy. Then it was on to the Republican National Committee, where Cain was to speak with members of the Georgia delegation, a spokesman for Graves said.
At some point, Cain was to meet House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan is meeting presidential candidates in his role at the Republican National Committee.