US & Canada

Herman Cain sexual harassment accuser 'wants to speak'

Republican candidate Herman Cain holds a cupcake that says 9-9-9 at the National Press Club on 31 October 2011
Herman Cain has actually raised more campaign funds since the harassment story emerged

A woman involved in a 1990s sexual harassment dispute with presidential hopeful Herman Cain wants to speak out about the episode, her lawyer says.

Joel Bennett told US media his client was frustrated by a non-disclosure agreement she signed with the National Restaurant Association.

Mr Cain, now a leading Republican contender, headed the lobby group from 1996 to 1999.

He has denied reports that he sexually harassed two women working under him.

In a series of interviews, Mr Cain has described the allegations - first reported by Politico - as "baseless", but has conceded that settlements were reached.

The two women involved are banned from speaking out by the terms of their settlements, reports say.

But Mr Bennett said that at least one of the women now wants to tell her side of the story, and called on the organisation to release her from her agreement.

"It is just frustrating that Herman Cain is going around bad-mouthing the two complainants, and my client is blocked by a confidentiality agreement," he told the Washington Post.

He said he would contact the association's general counsel with a formal request to change the provision.

"I'm going to ask him to send me something in writing which says that they're waiving the relevant paragraphs of the 1999 settlement," Mr Bennett said.

In a statement, the NRA said it would not respond until a formal request was received.

"We have seen media reports that attorney Joel Bennett is publicly making requests on behalf of a former National Restaurant Association employee," said Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the association. "If we are contacted by Mr Bennett, we will respond as appropriate."

Mr Bennett told the BBC he would be consulting with his client on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the National Restaurant Association paid $35,000 to one woman as a settlement, equivalent to a year's salary. It was not clear whether the woman was the same woman represented by Mr Bennett.

Gesture politics

On Tuesday, Mr Cain has admitted that his interviews since the story emerged may have suggested that he was changing his account of the allegations.

While his campaign had initially denied the substance of Politico's report, Mr Cain said on Tuesday that he had become "gradually able to recall" the events.

Speaking on HLN, a CNN sister channel, Mr Cain conceded that "it looked like I changed my story" throughout a series of media interviews on Monday.

In particular, Mr Cain clarified that he remembered a "separation agreement" was made, versus a "legal settlement".

He described what he remembered of one incident.

"I made a gesture by putting my hand under my chin, standing near this lady, saying: 'Oh, you're the same height as my wife.' My wife is 5ft tall (1.52m), she comes up to my chin and I was simply making that comparison."

"We were in my office, the door was wide open and my assistant was sitting right outside," he added.

But Mr Cain maintains he knows nothing of a second alleged case of sexual harassment.

He told HLN: "I absolutely believe this is an intended smear campaign," designed to stop his recent rise in opinion polls.

'Distractions'

Politico's original story on Sunday said that separation packages had been given to the women to leave the National Restaurant Association and not discuss the allegations.

At an appearance at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr Cain said he was "not aware of any settlement".

But later in the day, speaking on PBS, Mr Cain said he did know of an "agreement".

The former head of Godfather's Pizza said the accusations would not interfere with his campaign timetable.

"We're not going to allow these distractions to get us off message."

His campaign told CNN that $300,000 (£188,000) in campaign funds were raised on Monday.

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