WASHINGTON — GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain faces accusations from a third woman, who considered filing a complaint against him over sexually suggestive remarks and gestures.
The allegations are similar to accusations of unwanted behavior that led to separate settlements in the late 1990s with two other women who went on to pursue successful careers after leaving the organization Cain once headed.
The latest allegations come from a woman who said in interviews with The Associated Press that Cain was aggressive and inappropriate with her, even extending a private invitation to his corporate apartment when she worked with him at the National Restaurant Association. The woman said Cain’s behavior occurred at the same time two co-workers had settled separate harassment complaints against him while he was leading the association.
Those two women, now the focus of an intensifying scrutiny after their settlements became public, moved on professionally and personally after their time at the restaurant association. One woman thrived in her pursuit of her communications career and the other moved up in positions focusing on political outreach and public policy.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Republican Party said Thursday the furor surrounding Cain won’t damage the GOP’s chances of defeating President Barack Obama next year.
“I don’t know what’s true and what’s not,” Reince Priebus said, telling NBC’s “Today” show the key issue is that the public wants change at the top, and saying that sentiment will not fade.
“I’m not going to get in the middle it,” he said of the Cain brouhaha. “We’re not the Sherlock Holmes of the presidential primary field.”
Cain’s third accuser was located and approached by the AP as part of its investigation into harassment complaints against Cain that were disclosed in recent days and have thrown his presidential campaign into turmoil. She spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying she feared losing her current job and the possibility of damage to her reputation.
The woman said she did not file a formal complaint against Cain because she began having fewer interactions with him. Later, she learned that a co-worker — one of the two women whose accusations have rocked Cain’s campaign — already had done so. She said she would have felt she had to file otherwise.
She said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.
His actions “were inappropriate, and it made me feel uncomfortable,” the woman said.
The AP confirmed that the employee worked at the restaurant association with Cain during his time there, that she has no party affiliation in her voter registration in the past decade and that she is not identified as a donor in federal campaigns or local political campaigns. Records show she was registered as a Democrat at one point previously.
Asked for comment about the accusations, including the most recent, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said, “Mr. Cain has said over the past two days at public events that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues.” Gordon added, “He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-Beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself.”
Meanwhile, another woman who worked with Cain at the restaurant association said, “I found him to be a good boss.” Christina Howard, a former lobbyist for the association, said, “I felt no problem going into his office and asking for his advice.”
She said she didn’t recall allegations about Cain during his tenure and added, “I’d roll my eyes at anyone who would make that allegation.”
But Chris Wilson, a pollster who did work for the restaurant association during Cain’s tenure, said in an interview that he witnessed the businessman making inappropriate comments and gestures toward a young woman who worked for the group during a dinner at a hotel in Arlington, Va., in the late 1990s. Wilson declined to discuss more specifics without the woman’s permission, but said it was not one of the two women who settled complaints against Cain and it was not the third woman interviewed by the AP.
Cain’s behavior with women was well known, Wilson said.
“I’m surprised that it hasn’t come up before,” said Wilson, whose firm, Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, does polling for a political action committee backing a Cain rival, Rick Perry. Wilson said he has not been the source of information on the accusations against Cain.
Cain calls the two sexual harassment complaints that led to settlements “totally false” and baseless. The two women have declined dogged media requests to speak out, including requests from the AP. A lawyer for one of the women has said he will ask the restaurant association to lift a confidentiality agreement prohibiting comment after Cain insisted he did nothing wrong, suggesting that at least one of the women may have been terminated.
But his client is having second thoughts, concerned about how the frenzied attention she’d probably receive will affect her career, her family and her life today, a person close to the situation said Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the accusations and the fact that the incident has become public is very unsettling to the woman.
The AP confirmed the identity of the two women who received settlements but is not revealing their names.
One of the women continued her education after earning her college degree. She has handled political outreach and fundraising in the private sector and for trade organizations.
The other woman earned her master’s degree before moving into her current communications career. She started a media career in Washington soon after graduate school, working in the private sector and in the federal government. She and her husband live in suburban Maryland.
In response to the latest allegations against Cain, his campaign also decried a “smear campaign” as he is riding high in opinion polls and accused Perry’s operation of being behind the original stories.
Perry’s campaign denied any involvement — and suggested the campaign of yet another candidate, Mitt Romney, might be a source. Romney’s campaign said that wasn’t true.
Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan called the Cain campaign’s assertions against Perry “both reckless and false.”
Cain himself, in an interview with Forbes, said he believed a Perry consultant gave information about the allegations to Politico, which first disclosed the settlements with the two women. After denying earlier this week that he knew about any settlements, Cain said Wednesday that he outlined the allegations of a woman to the consultant, Curt Anderson, when Anderson was helping him on an earlier campaign.
Anderson said in a statement to AP: “I was one of several consultants on his Senate race in 2004 and was proud to help him. I never heard any of these allegations until I read about them in Politico, nor does anything I read in the press change my opinion that Herman is an upstanding man and a gentleman.”