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Herman Cain’s damage control on harassment claims hindered by ‘unconventional’ campaign

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

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(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Herman Cain has long bragged that he's an "unconventional candidate . . . running an unconventional campaign." But this very 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 sparked by reports that he had twice been accused of sexual harassment.

Over the last 36 hours, Cain and his top campaign aides have struggled to contain the fallout from the news, all the while  offering inconsistent and evolving accounts of what exactly he was accused of and how he responded to the charges. Two women had accused him of inappropriate harassing behavior while he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

At first, Cain's campaign issued a blanket denial to the initial Politico story on the accusations, which resulted in payouts to both accusers to settle the claims. Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon insisted the story was nothing more than a "liberal attack." But the campaign later backed off that unqualified denial. Cain's chief of staff Mark Block told MSNBC he was "unaware" of any complaints but insisted Cain had "never sexually harassed anyone, period."

On Monday morning, Cain changed the campaign's story again, telling Fox News he was aware of complaints, but insisted he had been "falsely accused." And he claimed not to be aware of any payouts to the female employees who had complained.

"If the restaurant association did a settlement, I was not even aware of it and I hope it wasn't for much," Cain told Fox News, insisting the claims were "totally baseless" and "totally false."

But in an interview Monday night with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren, Cain offered yet another version of events, acknowledging he was aware of a payout in at least one of the cases and suggested he had been directly involved in the details of that negotiation.

"My general counsel said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement, I don't remember a number, but then he said because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement," Cain told Van Susteren. "Maybe three months' salary? I don't remember. It might have been two months. I do remember my general counsel saying we didn't pay all of the money they demanded."

He told Fox News he didn't "recall signing" a settlement, but admitted he may have.

As The Ticket previously reported, Cain has also now admitted to some of the behavior that got him in trouble—including how he had told one woman in question that she was the same height as his wife. But he also offered more details about one of his accusers in his interview with Fox News, recalling that she worked as a writer in the NRA's communications department, that she was in her late 30s or early 40s and that her supervisor at the time believed her job performance "was not up to par" when she quit the NRA.

Cain told Fox News he was unaware of a second complaint filed against him. But after Politico had informed his campaign of the identity of the accusers, Cain did say that he recalled the woman worked in the NRA's government affairs department and ran the group's political action committee.

Meanwhile, some new details have surfaced on the nature of the complaints against Cain. The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reported the second woman filed a complaint against Cain after she was "taken aback" in a conversational exchange as the two travelled together on association business.  Meanwhile, a source tells The Wall Street Journal that one woman complained that Cain had invited her to his hotel room when they were on the road together, but she denied his request and there was no physical contact between the two.

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