Restaurant group will decide Friday if Cain accuser can tell her story

The National Restaurant Association has pledged to announce a decision Friday as to whether it will allow a former employee who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment to release a statement detailing her side of the story, the trade group announced Thursday.

Details about the alleged harassment are hampering Cain, who has struggled to stay ahead of an increasingly tangled and complex story.

“Our outside counsel was contacted by [attorney Joel] Bennett today and was asked to provide a response to a proposed statement by tomorrow afternoon,” Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the organization, said in a statement Thursday. “We are currently reviewing the document, and we plan to respond tomorrow.”

The woman needs the trade group’s permission because of the confidentiality agreement she signed when she left its employment.

Cain, meanwhile, said the accusations were unfounded and had been disproved in an investigation by the restaurant association.

“He’s trying to get famous and make some money,” Cain said about Bennett on the Sean Hannity radio show Thursday. “I don’t know where his head is … he’s not accepting that the charges were found baseless.”

The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO also put the onus on the trade group, saying it was “totally their decision” whether to release his accuser from the confidentiality agreement.

The release of the statement could cap a bruising week on the campaign trail for Cain, who had hoped to use a week of events in Washington, D.C., to rally mainstream conservative support and gather endorsements from establishment Republicans. Instead, he has been unable to stay on message as new details — many of which contradict the campaign’s earlier claims — emerge.

On Thursday, the campaign initially retreated from accusations that Curt Anderson, a consultant to Rick Perry who had worked on Cain’s 2004 Senate campaign, leaked the story of Cain’s alleged harassment. Anderson strongly denied the accusation and said that any reporter he had spoken to about Cain was free to attribute those comments to him.

“Until we get all the facts, I’m just going to say that we accept what Mr. Anderson has said, and we want to move on with the campaign,” Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, said on Fox News.

This came the morning after Block blasted the leak as “despicable” and said Perry owed “Herman Cain, his family and America an apology.” 

But later Thursday, Cain said that his campaign had never blamed Anderson for the leak, arguing it simply had been citing the conclusions of a Forbes journalist who initially reported the accusation.

The Forbes article, headlined “Cain Says Perry Camp Behind Sex Harassment Leak,” quotes the candidate saying that he told Anderson about the allegations. But Cain is not quoted specifically accusing Anderson of being the leak.

“A reporter did this research and came up with these facts; we didn’t,” Cain said on Hannity’s radio show. “That was the reporter that wrote the report for Forbes.”

Yet Cain seemed unconvinced that Anderson was truly not responsible, saying “there aren’t enough breadcrumbs that leads us to any other place.”

“I believe a lot of people are connecting the dots for themselves,” Cain said. “I don’t see any other way this could have come out.”

Further complicating the matter, Cain also equivocated on whether he definitively told Anderson about the allegations.

“I am almost certain that I did … this is why we want to get off this merry-go-round,” Cain said.

Cain maintained a comparatively quiet Thursday compared to the crush of interviews and appearances he had done earlier in the week. 

But he could be hurt by a report that his wife, Gloria Cain, decided not to do an interview on Fox News’s “On the Record.”

She was scheduled to appear on the show Friday night, but The New York Times reported Thursday that she’s “had a change of heart,” although she was not ruling out a future appearance on the network.

Gloria Cain has been largely absent from Cain’s presidential effort, and this would have been her first major interview.

Cain told Hannity the controversy was having an “impact” on his wife.

 “It is having an impact on her … Not because she believes any of this, because it put an extra burden on me,” he said.

Thursday also brought a report that the woman Cain has acknowledged having filed a sexual harassment complaint against him — he maintains that he cannot remember details of the second incident — was paid $45,000 when she left the organization.

That package far exceeds the estimate of a few months’ severance that Cain gave earlier this week, and, coupled with a $35,000 payment to Cain’s other accuser, means the restaurant association paid out a total of $80,000 to women who complained of his behavior. 

Other reports surfaced about Cain making inappropriate comments to the staff at an Iowa radio station, a third woman feeling uncomfortable after Cain invited her to his corporate apartment, and an evening where Cain might have drunk with staff and made an inappropriate advance. But Cain flatly denied all those allegations Thursday, calling them “absolutely not true.”

“This is absolutely fabrication, man, I don’t know what else to say — this stuff is totally fabricated,” a clearly agitated Cain said. “If speaking to someone is sexual harassment — give me a break!”

Cain said he was confident that he had never said anything inappropriate, because he knew he might be misunderstood.

“Being in business I learned a long time ago that unless I’m really, really comfortable with a woman employee that I know them well enough that they wouldn’t take it in that kind of way,” Cain said. “When you’re in a leadership position that can be misconstrued.”

There is one area the allegations haven’t seem to have hurt him: fundraising. 

His campaign told CNN it had raised $1.2 million since the allegations were first reported. 

But Cain seemed to recognize that his initial strategy of engaging the press on the story might have ended up hurting his campaign as contradictions and off-message remarks clouded his intent.

“I wanted to send a message to my supporters: I had nothing to hide,” Cain said.

He hinted that he might not be answering questions about the scandal for much longer.

“As of today, we’re back on message, we’re going to stay on message,” Cain said, adding that “people are sick and tired of gutter politics.”