Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and one of his top aides appeared at odds Thursday over whether they believe an aide to rival Rick Perry leaked a the story that has set off a public relations crisis for the Cain campaign.
Cain's campaign manager Mark Block said on Fox News that he accepts Curt Anderson's denials that he was the source of the information that led to a story in Politico on Sunday about allegations of sexual harassment filed against Cain in the mid-1990s. But Block did not apologize to Anderson, who works for Texas Gov. Perry's presidential campaign.
Hours later, on conservative commentator Sean Hannity's radio program, Cain did not back down from his assertion that Anderson was the source of the leak. "This Mr. Anderson is frequently quoted in Politico; he's got a connection there," Cain said. "And he started working for the Perry campaign two weeks ago. These are simply the facts."
In contrast, Block said: "Until we get all the facts, I'm just going to say that we accept what Mr. Anderson had said," he said on Fox. "All the evidence that we had and what has transpired in the last two weeks led up to Mr. Anderson being the source. We were absolutely thrilled that he came on your show and said that it wasn't, because Mr. Cain has always had the upmost respect for him. I'm going to do the same thing that Mr. Anderson has done and move on."
Block also termed as "erroneous" claims by Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster associated with a pro-Perry Super PAC, that he had been with Cain in a Washington-area restaurant and had observed him behaving inappropriately with women.
Although Block called for everyone to "move off of" this story, it's not likely to happen.
One of the women who says she received a financial settlement from the association is in negotiations with the National Restaurant Association the potential release of a statement describing her experiences with Cain when she and the presidential candidate worked there. The woman, currently under a confidentiality agreement, said through her lawyer that she wants to respond to Cain's repeated description of her claims as baseless. And Politico reported Thursday that one of Cain's accusers complained of an "overtly sexual" advance by her then-boss.
Block's comments on Fox Thursday were prompted by Anderson's repeated denials that he was the source of the leak. In an appearance on CNN's American Morning Thursday, Anderson said, "Candidates when they get into a firestorm like this have sometimes come unraveled and it seems to me like they're kind of grasping at straws and fishing around trying to figure out how to get out of this."
"I just wanted to set the record straight that I have tremendous respect for the guy," Anderson said, but he added, "I didn't know anything about this. So it's hard to leak something I don't know anything about."
However, a former senior campaign staffer to Cain told CBS News political correspondent Jan Crawford that he thought it was inconceivable that Anderson not know about the allegation, and doubted Anderson's claim of ignorance on the matter. The former campaign staffer, whom Cain fired in late 2003 after only a couple of months on his Senate campaign, said the campaign aides knew there had been an allegation against Cain during his days at the NRA and that they thought it might come up in opposition research. The source said that if he knew about it, Anderson must also have -- because Anderson was the campaign's general consultant and therefore above him in the hierarchy.
The staffer also said he never heard of any other similar allegations against Cain; the campaign understood the incident to be a single and baseless allegation. Now at a "pro-family" non-profit in Virginia, the staffer asked not to be named. But he said he and Cain remain on good terms, and that Cain spoke to his organization several years ago. He said he was fired after he and Cain butted heads over budgetary decisions.
Anderson found himself at the center of the controversy after Cain on Wednesday told Forbes magazine that in 2003 he shared with Anderson an account of a sexual harassment case against him during Cain's failed Senate campaign. At the time, Anderson was acting as the businessman's campaign consultant. He was hired last month to handle media for the Perry campaign.
"I told him that there was only one case, one set of charges, one woman while I was at the National Restaurant Association," Cain told Forbes. "Those charges were baseless, but I thought he needed to know about them. I don't recall anyone else being in the room when I told him."