- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A day after denying he sexually harassed two women while serving as president of the National Restaurant Association, Herman Cain sought to smooth out some of the inconsistencies in his story Tuesday, saying the passage of time, jargon and a busy schedule had muddled his memory and affected his initial reaction to the allegations.

The Republican presidential front-runner said he only began to recall one of the accusations leveled against him after people started referring to the ensuing financial payout given to one of his former female subordinates as a separation “agreement,” rather than a financial “settlement.”

“It was an agreement,” Mr. Cain said during an interview on CNN. “So, it looked like I changed my story. I didn’t change my story. I just simply got the wording right. The difference between ‘settlement’ and ‘agreement,’ there’s a difference to me.”

He maintained that he was unaware of the second set of allegations and related separation agreement.

Still, it became clear later in the day that the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO isn’t out of the woods, after a new report surfaced that the attorney for one of Mr. Cain’s accusers is requesting the National Restaurant Association release his client from the confidentiality agreement that she signed as part of a separation deal that barred her from talking.

“It is just frustrating that Herman Cain is going around badmouthing the two complainants, and my client is blocked by a confidentiality agreement,” lawyer Joel P. Bennett told The Washington Post. “The National Restaurant Association ought to release them and allow them to respond.”

Mr. Bennett also challenged Mr. Cain’s claim that the separation package had basically amounted to a severance package, which covered somewhere in the ballpark of three to six months of pay.

“If there hadn’t been [sexual harassment] claims, there wouldn’t have been a settlement,” Mr. Bennett told The Post.

Since the Washington-based news website Politico published the allegation in a story on Sunday, Mr. Cain’s response has evolved from confusion to outright denial to, most recently, a more nuanced explanation.

He spent most of Monday denying any knowledge of the allegations or a payout, while emphasizing that an investigation showed the charges to be baseless. But that changed in an interview with Fox News, where he said he remembered there was some sort of financial agreement and shared some of the details from one of his accusers.

“After 12 hours during the day, many events, many interviews, I was able to gradually recall what happened 12 years ago,” Mr. Cain said Tuesday.

Mr. Cain’s GOP rivals have stayed mum about the report, and White House spokesman Jay Carney took a pass when asked about the allegations during the daily briefing Tuesday. The Politico story did not name the women or detail the sexually suggestive behavior in the accusations against Mr. Cain.

The story threatens to slow the momentum that has helped Mr. Cain leapfrog some of the more established GOP candidates in the field and vie for the lead in many national polls, where he has positioned himself as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

But his surge has been met with increasing levels of scrutiny - particularly with his signature 9-9-9 tax plan, which would scrap the federal tax system in favor of a 9 percent tax on corporate and business income, and a 9 percent national sales tax. Others have questioned whether he has the ground operation or fundraising apparatus that is often needed to perform well in the early primary and caucus states.

Despite the personal attack, Mr. Cain said Tuesday that he enjoyed one of his strongest fundraising days of the campaign and continued to suggest that the attacks likely originated from people who want to “help paint a cloud and sabotage my candidacy.”

“Someone does not like the fact that we are doing so well in this campaign and that I’m at or near the top of the polls consistently,” he said. “I absolutely believe this is an intended smear campaign.”

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