Cain Calls Harassment Report a "Witch Hunt"

Cain Calls Harassment Report a "Witch Hunt"

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - October 31, 2011

Herman Cain defended himself Monday against allegations of inappropriate behavior toward two women while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s and he called media inquiries into the situation a "witch hunt."

The surging Republican White House hopeful said the association won’t release any information because "there's nothing else there to dig up."

"I have never sexually harassed anyone," Cain said at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington -- as a row of television cameras recorded the scene from the back of the room and a throng of photographers snapped pictures right below the podium.

“While at the National Restaurant Association, I was accused of sexual harassment -- falsely accused I might add. I was falsely accused of sexual harassment, and when charges were brought, as the leader of the organization, I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and my human resource officer to deal with the situation. It was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis.”

Cain also skirted reports that a settlement had been reached in the case. However, in an interview with Fox News' Greta van Susteren on Monday, he said that the association's general counsel and one of the women's lawyers came to a "termination settlement" of "maybe three months' salary" after concluding that "there was no basis for this."

Cain had been slated to spend a couple days in Washington talking about his "9-9-9" tax plan (cupcakes decorated with the numbers were handed out at the press club) and other policies. But his trip was overshadowed by a Politico report published Sunday that two women accused Cain of inappropriate behavior while he led the restaurant association over a decade ago.

In a question-and-answer session at the conservative American Enterprise Institute Monday morning, Cain stuck to economic policy and the institute prohibited reporters from asking the candidate about the report. When an ABC reporter did so anyway, Cain demurred and said he’d stick to the ground rules. Shortly afterward, he acknowledged the claims in an interview with Fox News. “It is totally baseless, and totally false. Never have I committed any sort of sexual harassment,” he said.

When asked whether the association would further address the allegations, Cain said, “There nothing to shoot down. . . . There’s nothing else there to dig up.”

Cain has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of polls nationwide and in several early voting states over the past month. Asked if he thought one of his competitors could be behind the report of sexual harassment, Cain said he didn’t know.

“I told you this bull's eye on my back has gotten bigger,” he said. “We have no idea the source of this witch hunt, which is really what it is.”

While the story dominated the Monday morning news cycle, it was a small part of the conversation at the press club. Cain discussed his foreign policy, calling for "peace through strength and clarity: clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are . . . [so] we can tell the rest of the world who we are going to stand with." He also said he would support a federal ban on abortion. And Cain said he was “pigeon-holed” by CNN's Piers Morgan in a recent interview when he appeared to suggest abortion is an individual choice.

But despite all the buzz surrounding the harassment issue, Cain gave those gathered at the press club a dose of his signature charm. When asked to sing, as he has sometimes done on the trail, Cain chose the hymn "He Looked Beyond My Faults."

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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