Cain under scrutiny after report of financial settlements with women

Herman Cain’s campaign is under intense pressure one day after a report that two women left a Washington, D.C., trade group after complaining of sexually inappropriate behavior on the part of the GOP presidential candidate.

Cain’s campaign has aggressively fired back at the reports as its candidate swings through Washington for a series of events, but they have not directly refuted the Politico report’s main contention: that two women left the National Restaurant Association with financial settlements and agreements not to talk about allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior by Cain.

Cain has not spoken publicly about the allegations since the report was released. 

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During an event Monday morning at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Cain said he would “take all of the arrows later,” an apparent reference to an appearance later Monday at the National Press Club. Cain also has several television interviews scheduled for Monday. 

A moderator at AEI would not accept a question about the report during the event, which was devoted to Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan.

"I'm going by the ground rules that my host has set," Cain said as the microphone of ABC News's Jonathan Karl was cut off. The AEI moderator had previously told the crowd that the candidate would only answer questions on economic policy.

Mark Block, Cain’s chief of staff, said Monday he was not personally aware that Cain agreed to any settlements with women at the trade group, which Cain headed from 1996 to 1999. He also said Cain had never sexually harassed anyone.

“Herman Cain has never sexual harassed anybody. Period. End of story,” Block said on MSNBC's “Daily Rundown.”

“Every negative word and accusation in the article is sourced to unnamed or anonymous sources and this is questionable at best,” Block said. 

“I am not personally aware of any cash settlement relating to sexual harassment charges relating to Mr. Cain,” he added.

Asked about his conversations with Cain about the allegations, Block said, "He said to me emphatically, 'When there's fact, bring them to me, let me face my accusers and we'll deal with it then.' "

Block told MSNBC that further information on any possible settlement should come from the National Restaurant Association. 

“I would suggest you contact the National Restaurant Association and ask them about any settlement. I am not personally aware of any settlement dealing with Mr. Cain.”

The report in Politico said the two female employees of the National Restaurant Association signed agreements with the trade group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures, the news outlet reported.

On Sunday night, Cain’s campaign cast the story as an attack by “inside-the-Beltway media” on Cain, who has jumped to the top of national polls on the strength of solid performances at GOP debates and his 9-9-9 tax plan, which would impose 9 percent income, sales and corporate taxes in place of the current regime.

“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," the statement said. 

“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.

“Since Washington establishment critics haven't had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain's ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.

“Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before — a prominent conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics. 

“Mr. Cain — and all Americans, deserve better.”

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Politico reported that the two women who left the restaurant trade group complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable. The political website cited unnamed sources and documentation in its report.

Politico also confronted Cain about its reporting on Sunday outside CBS's Washington bureau.

Cain said he has had “thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and would not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”

At the conclusion of the AEI event Monday, the Republican front-runner seemed defiant, pledging to stay true to his unorthodox style.

"Herman be Herman, and Herman is gonna stay Herman," Cain said.

This story was first posted at 9:25 p.m. Sunday and was updated at 10:05 a.m. Monday.

Justin Sink contributed to this story.