WASHINGTON — A woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment in the 1990s is ready for her story to come out, her lawyer said Tuesday, even as the Republican presidential hopeful spent a second day trying to quell the mounting controversy and explain his conflicting recollections of the matter.
Joel Bennett, the attorney for one of two women who made the claims against Cain, said Tuesday that his client is barred from publicly relating her side because of a nondisclosure agreement she signed upon leaving the National Restaurant Association, where Cain served as president from 1996 through 1999.
Bennett is calling on the association to waive the agreement so the woman, a federal worker living in suburban Maryland, can rebut Cain’s statements this week that the allegations were false and baseless.
“It is just frustrating that Herman Cain is going around bad-mouthing the two complainants, and my client is blocked by a confidentiality agreement,” Bennett said in an interview. “The National Restaurant Association ought to release them and allow them to respond.”
On Fox News on Tuesday, Cain declined to say whether he thinks the nondisclosure agreement should be lifted, saying he is consulting with a lawyer about the possible legal implications. In a statement, the restaurant association said that it had not been approached by Bennett but that it would “respond as appropriate.”
The disclosure Sunday by Politico that two women accused Cain of sexual harassment and had received settlements from the restaurant association sparked a political crisis for the Georgia businessman, who has risen from the bottom of the Republican presidential pack to become a front-runner for the party’s nomination.
Only Cain’s version of events has been aired publicly, and he has acknowledged that his recollections are hazy. Support for Cain has remained strong despite the controversy, his staff said, and the campaign claimed a banner fundraising day Monday. But that could change if one or both of the women speak publicly and appear credible, and Tuesday’s events made clear that pressure will remain on Cain to fully detail the incidents.
Bennett’s client is eager to share her story, the attorney said, but according to someone familiar with her thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity, she also is wary of her name becoming public. The woman “did not create this story,” the source said, and she thinks she has been “completely swept up in this hurricane,” but she is discussing with her family whether to make her story public.
The woman’s claim was that the harassment occurred over months, and was not an isolated comment or incident, the source said.
Cain verified Monday that one allegation of sexual harassment was lodged against him during his time at the association, but that he did not know of a second. He first said he had no knowledge of a settlement, but later said he knew some details about the payout. In interviews, Cain attributed his inconsistent recollections to various factors, including the amount of time that had passed.
Asked whether he had violated the nondisclosure agreement by divulging details about the matter, Cain responded in the Fox interview that he had not because he did not reveal the complainant’s name.
Cain has conducted a personality-driven campaign that has eschewed traditional venues. He has not spent much time in Iowa or other states with early voting contests, preferring to appear regularly on cable television. He has relied on his charisma and ideas to gain voters’ attention, using memorable slogans and infusing his remarks with humor.
Friends and longtime acquaintances say Cain has a gift for connecting with people, recalling names and exuding warmth. But they say it is possible that some may misconstrue his jokes and mannerisms.
“He’s professional, but he’s very friendly,” said Steve Grubbs, Cain’s Iowa chairman. “Maybe some people misinterpret friendly. But I can tell you this: He’s not afraid to give you a slap on the back or an enthusiastic handshake. He’s a gregarious person in many ways.”
Karol Markowicz, who worked as Cain’s deputy press secretary during his 2004 Senate bid and traveled throughout Georgia with him during that campaign, said that Cain was, and still is, “extremely friendly.” But that didn’t translate into more glad-handing on the campaign trail than any other politician was doing.
“I don’t remember him being a big hugger,” she said. “If he slapped people on the back, he did it to men and women.”
Even as a top business executive, Cain traveled often to speak with low-level employees and see how stores were faring on the ground. He rarely hesitated to pitch in if a restaurant was swamped and often slipped well-performing employees $50 on the spot to reward their work. The result, particularly at Godfather’s Pizza, was an abiding loyalty from his top deputies that remains today.
On the campaign trail, he has an unrestrained style that some supporters like, but at times rubs people the wrong way. He drew fire, for example, for suggesting that an electric fence be erected along the southern U.S. border. He later said he was joking, but, in some settings, treated the idea seriously. Cain, who is black, also has joked repeatedly about race.
Cain alluded to his edgy sense of humor at the close of a talk on Monday at the American Enterprise Institute. As questions about the sexual harassment allegations intensified, he suggested that his humor might foster misunderstandings.
“Yes, I am an unconventional candidate,” he said. “And yes, I do have a sense of humor, and some people have a problem with that. But to quote my chief of staff and all of the people that I talk to around this country, ‘Herman be Herman.’ And Herman is going to stay Herman.”
Staff writers Chris Cillizza, Krissah Thompson and Brady Dennis and researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.