POLITICS

Lawyer: Cain accuser wants to tell her side

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(AP, ABC7) - Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain denied on Tuesday that he's changing his story as he struggles to contain the fallout from sexual harassment allegations that could threaten his recently surging campaign.

(Photo: Associated Press)

The controversy, relating to his time as head of the National Restaurant Association, has surfaced just as he's risen in national polls in the GOP nomination fight two months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses.

Sources who prefer to remain anonymous tell ABC7 News that one of Cain's accusers lives in the D.C. area. ABC7 News has also learned that the woman worked closely with Cain while at the National Restaurant Association and now works at a federal agency.

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In public comments, Cain said he considers the women’s claims to be without merit.

“I absolutely believe that this is an intended smear campaign,” he said.

Joel Bennett, a Washington lawyer who specializes in employment cases, represents the woman from Maryland. He says she would like to speak about her claims publicly but is kept from doing so by a confidentiality agreement.

“Naturally she's been very upset about all this since the story broke last Sunday because Mr. Cain is giving the impression that she is someone who came out and made false allegations, and that's certainly not true,” Bennett told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “She's still deciding once we hear from the restaurant association what she'll do if they'll waive the confidentiality until they do that, she's not going to speak out."

Bennett also told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he asked the National Restaurant Association to waive his client's confidentiality so she can respond to Cain's claims that the complaints were "totally baseless and totally false."

The association paid one woman a year’s salary in severance pay after an encounter with Cain made her uncomfortable working there, the New York Times reported Tuesday, citing three people with direct knowledge of the payment.

In Sunday night's original report by Politico, at least two women who had complained about Cain were said to have agreed to settlements that included stipulations that they not repeat their allegations in public.

The Presidential contender's contradictory explanations over two days have raised questions about details of the allegations from back in the 1990s and about his current ability to manage a crisis in the national spotlight.

Cain's evolving answers to questions in a host of media interviews this week led at least one rival campaign to suggest he's not being upfront about the accusations.

"If you are the front-runner and you plan to be the nominee ... be forthcoming so that you are vetted, and we don't get into a situation where you're our nominee and we find out things after the fact," John Brabender, a strategist for Rick Santorum's campaign, said at forum hosted by National Journal. "We're still waiting for clarification from the Cain campaign."

But others took a pass. "I've been focused on policy. I don't follow some of the things that you guys seem fascinated by," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said during an appearance in Iowa.

Will it all undermine Cain in Iowa and beyond? Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was willing to hear the candidate out.

"Iowans are pretty fair-minded people and just because somebody makes an accusation - anybody that is in a high-profile position is potential to have people make these kinds of accusations," Branstad said. "I think Iowans will, you know, carefully look at the real situation and not jump to any conclusions."

And there was one indication the controversy might not hurt Cain's support among the conservative Republicans who have been driving his bid: His fundraising surged on Monday. Mark Block, his chief of staff, said the campaign raised as much as $250,000 in a day, and Cain said it was one of his best fundraising days ever.

Over the past two days, Cain has admitted he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He has said the woman initially asked for a large financial settlement but ultimately received two to three months' pay as part of a separation agreement. Cain also acknowledged remembering one of the woman's accusations against him, saying he stepped close to her to make a reference to her height, and told her she was the same height as his wife.

He has said he is not aware of agreements or settlements with any other women, though Politico - which first disclosed the allegations - reported that the trade group had given settlements to at least two female employees who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Beyond that, Cain has offered a series of sometimes-conflicting statements over what happened and didn't happen, and what he knew about financial payouts.

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