(For more campaign news, see ELECT <GO>.)
Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Herman Cain said sexual harassment claims against him are the work of political insiders trying to prevent a businessman from being elected U.S. president and that he expects more accusations.
“There will probably be others,” the Republican presidential candidate said at a press conference yesterday in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Because the machine trying to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless.”
Cain, who has surged in polls of the Republican race as he promotes his plan to simplify the nation’s tax code, is trying to counter what he termed “baseless” attacks that could threaten his candidacy. Acknowledging as much, he said, “It is natural that some voters would be turned off by the mere mention of the accusations,” He added, “Sexual harassment is a very serious charge.”
The claims will give pause to undecided voters, particularly women, said Richard Land, a leader of the Nashville, Tennessee-based Southern Baptist Convention and an influential figure among social conservatives.
“There are a lot of women who’ve had these experiences -- far more than should, and we all know they don’t always come forward,” Land said. “When it gets up to four, five, a half- dozen women accusing him, that’s a real problem.”
With his categorical denials of wrongdoing and insistence that political enemies were fomenting the accusations, Cain’s candidacy will be in jeopardy if his claims are undercut by new revelations or evidence.
Cain, 65, a former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, said yesterday Washington insiders fear someone with his financial experience who could shake up the political system.
“For decades, the American people have wanted a businessman in the White House and not just another politician,” he said. “All that the politicians are doing is just kicking the can down the road.”
Cain called yesterday’s press conference in response to a claim by a fourth woman that he had harassed her.
“The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject; they simply didn’t happen,” he said of the allegation by Sharon Bialek, a single mother from Chicago.
Bialek accused Cain of sexually assaulting her after she sought his help in finding a job in 1997. Just before the Cain press conference, Karen Kraushaar, a former employee of the National Restaurant Association, which Cain headed in the late 1990s, identified herself as one of three others whose harassment claims against him surfaced last week.
“I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period,” Cain said.
Bialek detailed her allegations against Cain at a Nov. 7 news conference in New York, where she was introduced by her lawyer, Gloria Allred of Los Angeles.
Cain, in denying Bialek’s claim, said the “Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman” to make false accusations against him.
Bialek was identified as a Republican by Allred, who routinely contributes to Democratic candidates.
Cain had earlier blamed the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry, a rival in the Republican race, as the source for the initial reports of the years-old harassment allegations.
“There aren’t enough breadcrumbs that we can lay down that leads us anywhere else at this point,” Cain said on Nov. 3.
With five American flags as a backdrop at his Arizona news conference, Cain said he won’t let the attacks derail his campaign. “As far as these accusations causing me to back off,” he said, “ain’t going to happen.”
Cain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are in a virtual tie for first place in the Republican race, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll released yesterday. The survey was taken before Bialek came forward with her accusations.
At her news conference, Bialek said Cain agreed to have dinner with her as she sought his help in finding employment after she had lost her job with the restaurant association’s Chicago-based educational foundation. She said she was in a car with him in Washington when he reached under her skirt for her genitals and pushed her head toward his crotch.
Cain said he watched Bialek’s news conference from a hotel room. “I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn’t,” he said.
Cain later said it was possible he had met Bialek and couldn’t remember, though he termed that “a remote possibility.”
He continued: “I’m not an expert on how the brain works, but I do know that I sat there and went over and over and over and over in my mind, do I know this lady? The answer kept coming up, no.”
Cain also said he’d be willing to take a lie detector test if he had “good reason” to do so.
Earlier, Cain’s campaign released information that Bialek had twice declared bankruptcy and had a history of litigation.
A review of court filings confirms she was party to two asset-liquidating Chapter 7 proceedings in 1991 and 2001 and that a woman named Sharon Bialek has been a defendant in six lawsuits, including claims by creditors.
Bialek told viewers of the ABC News program “Good Morning America” yesterday that money wasn’t behind her decision to speak up.
“I speak the truth; I’m not a liar,” she said. “I was not paid to come forward.”
Comparison to Wife
Asked about Kraushaar, Cain said she is the only woman he can recall previously making a harassment claim. As he said when the harassment reports first emerged, the only remark he remembered making to her that might have bothered her was comparing her height to that of his wife.
Cain said Kraushaar’s charges were investigated by the restaurant association and found to be “baseless.” He said she received money in a private agreement as she left the trade group, and said it wasn’t a legal settlement.
Kraushaar, currently a spokeswoman with the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, received a $45,000 payment from the restaurant group as part of a confidentiality agreement concerning her claim.
Joel Bennett, Kraushaar’s lawyer, told CNN yesterday that Kraushaar had authorized him to say that that her allegations against Cain involved “multiple incidents over multiple days and they constituted sexual harassment.”
Joint News Conference
The Washington Post reported that in an interview yesterday, Kraushaar said she is interested in being part of a press conference featuring the women making claims against Cain, “where we would all be together with our attorneys and all of these allegations could be reviewed as a collective body of evidence.”
A lawyer for Cain, Lin Wood, told the Arizona news conference that the candidate finds himself “on trial in the court of public opinion.” He then introduced Cain, who made a statement before taking questions.
“My reputation is something I’ve worked for over 40 years to build up,” Cain said. “Now that I’m running for the highest office in the land,” accusations “are now coming to light. This is not a surprise.”
Romney termed the harassment allegations “particularly disturbing” in an interview yesterday with ABC News and Yahoo.
“Any time there is an accuser that comes forward with charges of this nature, you recognize this is a very serious matter and it should be taken seriously,” he said. “I don’t have any counsel for Herman Cain or for his campaign. They have to take their own counsel on this.”
--With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington and Seth Stern in Washington and Andrew Harris in Chicago. Editors: Don Frederick, Mark McQuillan.
To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Phoenix at firstname.lastname@example.org and Lisa Lerer in Washington at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org