Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Herman Cain continued to defend himself against claims that he sexually harassed two employees while leading a trade association in the 1990s, telling the audience that he’s the victim of a “witch hunt.”
As he had earlier in the day on Fox News Channel, Cain admitted that he had been accused of harassment while he was the president and chief executive of the National Restaurant Assn.
Cain insisted to the lunchtime crowd that the claims were false and said he did not know whether they were settled or how much it cost to settle them.
While Cain’s speech to the Washington institution had been previously scheduled, the harassment story, first reported Sunday evening by Politico, ensured that it was swarming with reporters and cameras.
As Cain spoke, NBC News reported that it had confirmed that one woman who worked at the association received a settlement after complaining about Cain’s conduct.
“I would be delighted to clear the air,” he told questioner Mark Hamrick in a question and answer session that followed his standard stump speech. “In all my over 40 years of business experience. . . of running businesses and corporations, I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
But, he added, when he was accused of sexual harassment – “falsely accused, I might add….as leader of the organization, I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and human resources officer to deal with the situation.”
Following “a thorough investigation,” he said, those staffers reached the conclusion that the charges “had no basis.”
Politico reported Sunday that two women received settlements in the five figures.
“I am unaware of any settlement,” Cain said Monday. “I hope it wasn’t for much because I didn’t do anything.”
Some say it strains credulity that Cain, as leader of the restaurant trade group, would not be aware of money paid to women claiming he’d harassed them; neither alleged victim has allowed herself to be identified, according to Politico.
Politico reported that the settlement agreements prohibited them from speaking publicly about their departures from the association.
The revelations about Cain’s personal conduct come at a time when Cain is riding high in the polls and is trying to persuade Republican voters that he is more than a “flavor of the week” candidate.
Following a forum on economic policy earlier Monday at the American Enterprise Institute, Cain was asked whether the GOP, which has had a series of presidential favorites this year who rise then fade, will “fall out of love with you any time soon.”
Cain replied that his support comes from “the people, not the party. The people have propelled my candidacy. The momentum is coming from the grassroots.”
He added “That’s why this flavor of the week is now the flavor of the month and it still tastes good.”
Later, Cain gave reporters at the National Press Club a taste of how he charms crowds on the campaign trail. When Hamrick asked if he would consider ending with a song, Cain complied, singing a verse of a favorite gospel song “He Looked Beyond My Faults.”
Here’s Cain bursting into song: