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Herman Cain: I "never sexually harassed anyone"

Cain: I was falsely accused of sexual harassment

Updated 6:17 p.m. Eastern Time

White House hopeful Herman Cain sought to calm the furor surrounding allegations he had inappropriate interactions more than a decade ago with two female employees who were later paid not to discuss their charges in public, repeatedly declaring that he "never sexually harassed anyone" and calling the allegations "baseless."

"I've never sexually harassed anyone, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association," he said on Fox News.

"It is totally baseless, and totally false, never have I committed any sort of sexual harassment," he added.

Cain was asked if he has ever had to settle a sexual harassment or sexual misconduct claim, false or otherwise.

"Outside of the Restaurant Association, absolutely not," he said. "If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I am not - I wasn't even aware of it and I hope it wasn't for much, because nothing happened. So if there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers that worked for me at the Association. So the answer is absolutely not."

At least one news organization has corroborated Politico's report that the National Restaurant Association paid a cash settlement to a woman who complained of Cain's conduct.

In a separate Fox News interview to air Monday night, Cain discussed one of his accusers.

"The one I am familiar with worked here in the Washington office and I can't even remember her name because she had not been a long term employee but I do remember the formal allegations she made in terms of sexual harassment," he says in the interview, portions of which were released to CBS News before they are broadcast.

Cain also spoke to PBS NewsHour, where he said "the only [incident] that I could recall after a day of trying to remember specifics was once I referenced this lady's height and I was standing near her and I did this saying, 'You're the same height as my wife.' Because my wife is five feet tall and she comes up to my chin. This lady's five feet tall and she came up to my chin. So, obviously, she thought that that was too close for comfort." Cain told the same story on Fox.

He added on PBS that the one incident he remembers took place "in my office,door wide open and my secretary was sitting right there."

Appearing at the National Press Club Monday, Cain said he recused himself when the charges were brought forward since he was the head of the organization. Asked if he was calling on the restaurant association to release documentation to clear up the matter, Cain said no, citing the group's policy of not releasing information about personnel matters.

"There's nothing to shoot down," he said. 

Cain confronts sexual harassment claims

At left: Cain yells "no!" on Monday when reporters asked if he'd ever engaged in sexual misconduct with anyone at the National Restaurant Association.

On Fox News, Cain said that if more allegations surface, it will be because people "simply make them up." He said "the only other allegations will be trumped up allegations."

"There is nothing else," he said.

Herman Cain vows to look into allegations of financial misconduct

Cain, who is at the top of polls for the Republican presidential nomination, vowed to "stay on message" going forward.

"Now, obviously, some people are going to be turned off by this cloud that someone wanted to put over my campaign, but a lot of people aren't going to be turned off," he said. "We will just have to wait and see what happens."

At the National Press Club Cain referenced his rise in the polls and quipped, "as a result of today's big news story I really know what it feels like to be number one." Asked if he knew where the allegations came from -- and if they had been planted by a rival -- he said he didn't know.

"I told you this bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger," said Cain. "We have no idea the source of this witch hunt."

Cain: Investigation into past misconduct is a "witch hunt"

On Sunday night, Politico reported that while Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, "at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group."

The story, which cited "multiple sources" including one "with close ties to the restaurant association" and another it called "familiar with Cain's tenure in Washington," said the women complained of "sexually suggestive behavior" by Cain. It said the woman received financial payouts upon leaving the group and that their departure agreements barred them from discussing the circumstances of their departure. Politico reports that it has "seen documentation describing the allegations" by one woman, though it does not detail them. 

At an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute shortly before the initial Fox News interview, Cain did not directly address the controversy, but he took the microphone at the end of his remarks to say this: "By the way folks - yes, I am an unconventional candidate, and yes, I do have a sense of humor, and some people have a problem with that. But to quote my chief of staff and all the people around this country, let Herman be Herman, and Herman is gonna stay Herman. Thank you very much."

That chief of staff, Mark Block, said in an interview with MSNBC earlier in the day, "Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody. Period. End of story."

Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain holds up a muffin that has his catch-phrase 9-9-9 tax plan printed on it, before speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain holds up a muffin that has his catch-phrase 9-9-9 tax plan printed on it before speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Block separately told reporters that Cain initially didn't deny the claims because "they were anonymous accusations. We didn't in any way want to make those real. They were anonymous, they were baseless, sourceless."

After leaving CBS News' Washington bureau Sunday after appearing on "Face the Nation," Cain was approached by a Politico reporter for comment on the allegations. Asked if he had ever been accused of sexual harassment, Cain was silent. After the reporter repeated the question multiple times, Cain responded by posing the question back to the reporter, asking, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?"

In the Fox News interview, Cain said, "I was aware of the false accusations that took place at the restaurant association, and then when we were asked for me to comment, they wanted for this to be from two anonymous sources. We weren't going to go and chase anonymous sources." He added at the National Press Club: "We're not going to chase anonymous sources when there's no basis for the accusation."

According to Politico, however, Cain's "campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday." Cain's campaign initially told the news outlet that Cain had indicated to campaign officials he was "vaguely familiar" with the allegations. 

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