- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

After a two-day blitz of awkward interviews, partial explanations and sometimes contradictory answers, the Herman Cain campaign employed new strategies Wednesday to deal with accusations of sexual harassment from two employees while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

First, silence. Then, blame the other guy — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, his Republican rival in the presidential race.

But the damage may have already been done, as additional details continued to surface outside the halls of Congress that sparked some finger-pointing and threatened the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO’s presidential bid.

On Wednesday afternoon, a third woman told the Associated Press that she considered filing a similar workplace complaint against Mr. Cain, around the same time settlements were doled out to the two other women. The Cain campaign quickly dismissed the latest charges as “baseless.”

Also Wednesday, a former pollster for the restaurant association told an Oklahoma City radio station interview that he was one of several people to witness some of the behavior at an Arlington restaurant that led to one of the sexual-harassment complaints, which he said came from a lower-level staffer.

“This occurred at a restaurant in Crystal City and everybody was aware of it,” Oklahoma political consultant Chris Wilson said on KTOK’s “Mullins in the Morning” program. “It was only a matter of time because so many people were aware of what took place, so many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.”

Mr. Wilson, who has done work for Make Us Great Again — a super-PAC that is backing Mr. Perry, later added that, “if she comes out and talks about it … it’ll probably be the end of his campaign.”

Meanwhile, Joel P. Bennett, an attorney for one of the women who accused Mr. Cain of mistreatment, said disparaging remarks Mr. Cain made about his client may have freed her from the confidentiality agreement. That deal, which she signed as part of her financial separation package, bars her from talking about what happened.

The New York Times, though, reported Wednesday night that Mr. Bennett said his client wouldn’t go public in order to protect herself from the media frenzy that would likely ensue.

“She’s not going to affirmatively make any public statements or public appearances about the case; everything will be through me,” Mr. Bennett told the Times. “She has a life to live and a career, and she doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill.”

The political frenzy stems from accusations published Sunday by Politico newspaper and website that the restaurant association doled out “five-figure” separation agreements with two women who accused Mr. Cain of inappropriate behavior while he led the group from 1996 to 1999.

The story has cast a shadow over Mr. Cain’s improving status in the presidential race, which became clear Wednesday after his appearance before a Congressional Health Caucus turned into a media circus.

Pelted with a series of questions, Mr. Cain stayed mum and breezed through the Capitol’s hallways.

But Mr. Cain and his campaign fired back in other venues Wednesday by both denying the charges and blaming Mr. Perry.

In an interview on Forbes.com, Mr. Cain accused Curt Anderson, who worked on his 2004 Georgia Senate campaign and knew the details of the accusations. Mr. Anderson now works for OnMessage Inc., a Republican-leaning consulting firm recently hired by Mr. Perry’s presidential campaign.

The same attack was made Wednesday by Cain adviser Mark Block in a Fox News interview. “The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable. Rick Perry and his campaign owe Herman Cain and his family an apology,” Mr. Block said.

Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan dismissed Mr. Block’s claim.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press released a story in which a third woman said Mr. Cain gave her a private invitation to his corporate apartment and also shared with her that he talked to colleagues about how attractive she was. Fearing retaliation, she spoke on the condition on anonymity, the AP reported.

Asked about the latest charges, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told reporters that his boss has said “that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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