Lift muzzle on accuser? Cain won't say

Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain hammered back at allegations that he sexually harassed two women while running the National Resturant Association, calling himself the victim of a "smear campaign." Scott Pelley reports. CBS News

Cain: I'm the victim of a "smear campaign"
Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain hammered back at allegations that he sexually harassed two women while running the National Resturant Association, calling himself the victim of a "smear campaign."
CBS News

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Tuesday he isn't sure whether he'll ask the National Restaurant Association to release a woman who accused him of sexual harassment from a confidentiality agreement that prevents her from speaking about the case.

Appearing on the Fox News program Special Report with Brett Baier shortly after a lawyer for the woman spoke to CBS and The Washington Post, Cain said he will have to weigh "legal implications" before deciding whether to support any request for a waiver of the confidentiality deal. "I can't give you a definitive answer on that until we consult with our attorneys and talk with some others," Cain said. "It's too soon."

The National Restaurant Association late Tuesday said it has not yet heard from the woman's attorney but will respond "as appropriate."

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Cain's shifting explanations of what he knew when about the case prompted a rebuke from conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, one of the panelists on the show. Cain on Monday told a National Press Club audience that he was aware of no settlement with his accusers; later he acknowledged knowing details of a financial package for at least one of them. He argued that this constituted an "agreement" not a "legal settlement."

Krauthammer asked how a candidate who has prided himself on being a straight shooter could end up "parsing the words in a Clintonian legalistic way." The reference was to former President Bill Clinton's famous caveat, "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" during testimony relating to an affair with a White House intern.

Cain answered: "It wasn't intended to be Clintonian. It was simply using the word agreement, which in business organization I have run, when there has been an employee leaving, whether voluntarily or involuntarily we generally call it an agreement."

In an interview with Fox's Bill O'Reilly, Cain explained his muffed response by saying that he "didn't anticipate" some of the questions fired at him on Monday - even though he has acknowledged having 10 days notice of the Politico story that surfaced the sexual harassment charges.

"Even though I hadn't had 24 hours to process exactly what it was going to say or I hadn't had 24 hours to try and recollect some of the details, I wanted to go out front with it, even though, by the end of the day, I had recalled more of the details," Cain said. "Bill, this was 12 years ago. I did it for my supporters and they have responded in a positive way because I got out in front and was direct in addressing this issue."

Cain added that his supporters have rallied behind him and former colleagues and associates have stepped up to attest to his character and integrity. The campaign said in a release that they had received $400,000 in donations on Monday, after the allegations surfaced.

Asked on the Baier program whether he believes his race is a factor in the controversy enveloping his campaign, the only African American in the GOP field answered: "Yes but we do not have any evidence to support it. . . We believe that yes, there are some Democrats, liberals who do not want to see me win the nomination and there could be some people on the right who do not want to see me because I am not the quote unquote establishment president."

The allegations against Cain have dominated media coverage since Politico reported on Sunday that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association received financial settlements and left the interest group after accusing Cain, the head of the organization in the mid-1990s, of sexual harassment. Cain first said on Monday morning that he was not aware of any settlement at all; later in the evening, he said he was aware of one settlement and shared more details about the complaints in a series of television interviews, including one late Monday with Fox's Greta Van Susteren.

Asked yet again about the inconsistencies by Baier, Cain pleaded the pressure of the campaign and a faulty memory.

"This happened 12 years ago," he continued. "All day in the middle of my regular schedule I'm trying to piece the pieces together. As I indicated earlier today the best recollection of what happened is represented on Greta. Didn't mean to contradict myself it's just been difficult to recollect pieces that happened 12 years ago."

Meanwhile, The New York Times is now reporting that one of Cain's accusers received $35,000 -- a year's salary -- in severance pay to leave the organization.

  • Naureen Khan On Twitter»

    Naureen Khan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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