WASHINGTON (AP) — Herman Cain is defending himself anew and – without evidence – blaming presidential rival Rick Perry’s campaign of being behind the disclosure of years-old sexual harassment allegations against him. Cain is pressing forward, even as a third woman says she considered filing a complaint against him over sexually suggestive remarks and gestures.
“That is the DC culture: Guilty until proven innocent,” Cain told Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in an interview published Thursday on The Daily Caller website.
As the allegations rocked his campaign for the fourth day, the Georgia businessman’s team intensified its claim that Perry’s advisers or allies were the source of the initial story – in Politico – on Sunday night. It disclosed that the National Restaurant Association had reached financial settlements with two former employees who complained the Cain had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior while head of the trade group in the 1990s.
Perry, himself, denied that he and his campaign were involved in anyway.
“We found out about the allegations against Mr. Cain the same time everybody else did,” Perry told the Red State blog.
A Perry aide suggested that Mitt Romney’s campaign was behind it, asserting ties between Romney’s campaign backers, Cain and the trade group without providing evidence of any involvement. The former Massachusetts governor’s campaign said it had nothing to do with the disclosures.
“I don’t know what’s true and what’s not,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told NBC’s “Today.” “I’m not going to get in the middle it. We’re not the Sherlock Holmes of the presidential primary field.”
“I’m not the referee,” he added. “Primaries are tough.”
In a statement Thursday, Politico’s editor-in-chief John Harris said: “POLITICO, like other news organizations, can’t be in the practice of confirming or denying who is or isn’t a confidential source for our stories. The story we published has now been corroborated by a multitude of sources and other news organizations as accurate.”
The finger-pointing came as Cain fought to contain the fallout of the allegations that were made public just two months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses and with polls showing him near the top of the pack national and in early voting states. The allegations – and Cain’s shifting answers to questions about them since they were first disclosed – threaten to undermine a campaign that many establishment Republicans long have viewed as a long-shot to win the party’s presidential nomination.
Conservatives have rallied around him, arguing – without any proof of liberal involvement – that the left was castigating Cain much as it did Thomas, also a black conservative, during his confirmation hearings in the early 1990s.
Cain has repeatedly denied that he sexually harassed anyone. Beyond that, he’s offered a series of conflicting explanations.
After initially saying he knew of no settlements, he has acknowledged that he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He also has acknowledged knowing 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.
On Thursday, Joel P. Bennett – the lawyer for one of Cain’s accusers – was seeking approval from the trade group for his client to issue a statement about her position, notwithstanding the confidentiality agreement she had signed as a part of the settlement.
A person close to the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the accusations, said the woman was increasingly reluctant to speak publicly and said the fact that the incident has become public was very unsettling to her.
The latest allegations come from a woman who said in interviews with The Associated Press that Cain was aggressive and inappropriate with her, even extending a private invitation to his corporate apartment when she worked with him at the National Restaurant Association. The woman said Cain’s behavior occurred at the same time two co-workers had settled separate harassment complaints against him while he was leading the association.
Cain’s third accuser was located and approached by the AP as part of its investigation into harassment complaints against Cain that were disclosed in recent days and have thrown his presidential campaign into turmoil. She spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying she feared losing her current job and the possibility of damage to her reputation.
The woman said she did not file a formal complaint against Cain because she began having fewer interactions with him. Later, she learned that a co-worker – one of the two women whose accusations have rocked Cain’s campaign – already had done so. She said she would have felt she had to file otherwise.
She said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.
His actions “were inappropriate, and it made me feel uncomfortable,” the woman said.
The AP confirmed that the employee worked at the restaurant association with Cain during his time there, that she has no party affiliation in her voter registration in the past decade and that she is not identified as a donor in federal campaigns or local political campaigns. Records show she was registered as a Democrat at one point previously.
Asked for comment about the accusations, including the most recent, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said, “Mr. Cain has said over the past two days at public events that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues.” Gordon added, “He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-Beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself.”
And with that, Cain and his campaign started pointing the finger at Perry.
In an interview with Forbes on Wednesday, Cain said he believed a Perry consultant gave information about the allegations to Politico. After denying earlier this week that he knew about any settlements, Cain said he had outlined the allegations of a woman to the consultant, Curt Anderson, when Anderson was helping him on an earlier campaign.
He told his supporters by phone: “We now know and have been able to trace it back to the Perry campaign that stirred this up, in order to discredit me and slow us down.”
Perry’s campaign called that “reckless and false.”
And Anderson told CNN on Thursday that he never had a conversation with Cain about sexual harassment.
“It’s just not true,” Cain said. Asked in an interview whether he believed Cain was lying in his statement to Forbes magazine, Anderson said, “I’m not here to add any more name-calling.”
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt, Brett J. Blackledge and Mark Sherman in Washington, writer Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J., and news researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.