A woman who accused Republican US Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment on Thursday offered a statement telling her side of the story, in a move that could further undermine his campaign.
Cain has been accused by at least three women of sexual harassment when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s. The issue is dominating the race to decide a Republican challenger to face Democratic US President Barack Obama in next November’s election.
“This is absolutely fabrication, man,” Cain told conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, adding later: “We’re not going to get distracted. As of today we’re back on message and we’re going to stay on message.”
One of the women said earlier this week that she wanted to talk publicly about accusations that Cain had sexually harassed her, but she has since changed her mind and wanted to make a written statement through her lawyer.
The woman’s lawyer, Joel Bennett, gave the statement to the restaurant group, said Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the restaurant association.
The trade group’s lawyers were reviewing the statement to decide whether to lift a confidentiality agreement that she signed when she left the association. It is likely to conflict with Cain’s version of events.
“We are currently reviewing the document, and we plan to respond tomorrow,” Hensley, of the association, said.
Hannity asked Cain about comments from a conservative Iowa radio host who said Cain subjected two of his female staff members to “inappropriate and awkward” comments.
“If speaking to somebody is sexual harassment, give me a break,” Cain said, sounding exasperated. “All I do is speak to people everywhere I go and even though they are the receptionists, I treat them with respect by saying hello.”
Cain complained of his treatment by the US news media after spending most of this week in the glare of the Washington press corps, giving conflicting accounts of the case and accusing his rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry, of instigating the controversy to derail his surging campaign.
Cain’s charges against Perry prompted a vigorous round of mud-slinging on the campaign trail, with the Perry camp suggesting that candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was responsible and Romney’s team denying it.
Cain told the conservative activist that the experience this week in Washington has been “very disorienting,” and he sought to clarify a bungled answer to a foreign policy question he gave in a PBS interview earlier in the week, when he said China was trying to acquire a nuclear capability, which it has possessed since the 1960s.