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Herman Cain grilled by D.C. press about sexual harassment allegations

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
The Cutline

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Cain (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Herman Cain's day-long tour of Washington, D.C., on Monday was upended by a Politico report that the Georgia businessman and Republican presidential candidate was accused of sexual harassment when he was president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Instead of spending the day talking economic policy or his unlikely rise in the polls, Cain was forced to address the report at every stop.

More from The Ticket's Chris Moody:

Cain's day in Washington began at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, where he was scheduled to partake in a wonky, policy-based discussion about the nation's fiscal problems and his economic plan, which would scrap the current tax code and replace it with three federal 9 percent taxes on sales, personal income and business income. The place was packed, but not because anyone wanted to hear the details of "9-9-9." Sex, not fiscal policy, was the topic consuming the minds of the members of the Washington press corps who made the trip. (It's usually the other way around.)

Reporters crowded into a conference center on AEI's top floor. Late-comers stood around the edges of the room along the wall and photographers crawled on their knees, maneuvering between the aisles. Some news outlets sent as many as four journalists to cover the event. After a half hour of "9-9-9" discussion, everyone looked bored as they waited to hear something--anything!--about the harassment allegations.

Finally, AEI moderator Kevin Hassett opened the floor for questions. Everyone perked up.

"The questions need to be about the topic at hand," Hassett warned.

Most followed the rules, but after several questions about the intricate details of an economic plan that will likely never be passed into law, ABC News correspondent Jon Karl couldn't take it anymore. He raised his hand for a question, and a staffer brought him a microphone.

"As you're well aware there is a big cloud that is affecting your ability to get this out, which is the story in Politico, and I was just wondering if you can clear it up for us right now," Karl said.

The moderator quickly interrupted him. "That question is inconsistent with the ground rules that we have," Hassett said.

The AEI staffer pulled the microphone away from Karl, but he kept talking, raising his voice so you could hear him across the room.

It was no use. "I'm going by the ground rules that my host has set," Cain said, moving on.

Later, at a sold-out event at the National Press Club, Cain addressed the Politico report. "I would be delighted to clear the air," Cain said when National Press Club president Mark Hamrick asked about the Politico story. "I have never sexually harassed anyone ... While at the National Restaurant Association, I was accused of sexual harassment. Falsely accused, I might add. ... When the charges were brought, as the leader of the organization, I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and my human resources officer to deal with the situation."

"This bullseye on my back has gotten bigger," Cain added when Hamrick asked who he thought was responsible for bringing the story to the press. "We have no idea of the source of this witch hunt. Which is what it is. We have no idea."

Cain also made the rounds on cable news, appearing on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren."

"There was some sort of settlement or termination," Cain told Van Susteren. "Since it was found baseless, there was no big settlement or it would have had to have come to me."

Via the transcript:

VAN SUSTEREN: How much?

CAIN: I don't remember the number.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thousands or hundreds of thousands?

CAIN: Thousands, but I don't remember a number. But then he said, The good news is because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly, in terms of...

VAN SUSTEREN: And what would that be, about?

CAIN: Maybe three months' salary or something like that, just vaguely trying to recall it.

As Holly Bailey noted on The Ticket, Cain's "lack of traditional campaign infrastructure and discipline could now prove to be a major weakness as the Republican presidential candidate tries to weather a full-blown political crisis."

On Tuesday morning, Cain appeared on CNN-sister network HLN. "If I could do it over, I would start with the last interview I did last night and make that the first interview of the day," Cain told HLN's Robin Meade. "Because after 12 hours during the day, many events, many interviews, I was gradually able to recall more and more details about what happened."

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