WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Herman Cain said Monday he was "falsely accused" of sexually harassing two women while he led a trade organization.
During an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington -- one of several occasions throughout the day on which Cain addressed the matter -- he said he was the victim of a "witch hunt."
"I have never sexually harassed anyone ... and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association," Cain told Fox News Monday morning. "I say falsely because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless. … It is totally baseless and totally false. Never have I committed any sort of sexual harassment."
During an appearance at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute Monday, Cain declined to address a Politico report that he sexually harassed two women while he led the association and they were given financial settlements and left the organization, The Washington Post reported.
"I'll take all of the arrows later," Cain told his audience, referring to the scheduled appearance at the press club.
When pressed by a reporter at the AEI appearance, Cain said he would abide by "the ground rules that my host has set."
The forum's moderator asked the audience to focus its questions on fiscal policy.
Cain campaign manager Mark Block denied the allegations during an appearance on MSNBC.
"Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody, period. End of story," Block said.
During a question-and-answer period following his speech at the National Press Club, Cain reiterated that he has "never sexually harassed anyone."
"I was falsely accused of sexual harassment, and when the charges were brought, as the leader of the organization, I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and my human resource officer to deal with the situation, and it was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis," he said.
"This bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt, which is really what it is."
Several sources confirmed to Politico that the women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain during his tenure as head of the restaurant association in the 1990s. The women said Cain's behavior made them angry and uncomfortable, Politico reported Sunday. The sources said the women signed agreements that led to payouts to leave the association and included language barring them from discussing their departures.
The Hill reported Cain's campaign painted the story as an attack by "inside the Beltway media" on the Georgia businessman, who became a top-tier candidate because of his solid performances at GOP debates and his 9-9-9 tax plan, which would replace the current tax system by imposing 9 percent income, sales and corporate taxes.
"Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain," his campaign said in a statement.
"Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain's tenure as the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts," the statement said.
Politico said the incidents included allegedly innuendo-laced conversations or questions of a sexually suggestive nature that occurred during conferences at hotels and other sanctioned restaurant association events, and at the association's offices. Sources described physical gestures that weren't explicitly sexual but made women who saw them uncomfortable and said they considered the gestures improper in a professional relationship.
Politico said it learned of allegations against Cain and pieced together accounts of what happened by talking to former board members, current and past staffers and other people familiar with the trade group when Cain was there. The Washington publication also said it was shown documentation describing the allegations and showing the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women got five-figure separation packages.
Several leaders of National Restaurant Association board of directors at the time of Cain's departure said they hadn't heard about any complaints regarding Cain making unwanted advances.
"I have never heard that. It would be news to me," said Denise Marie Fugo, who runs a Cleveland catering company. "He's very gracious."
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