US & Canada

Herman Cain: Sexual harassment claims 'baseless'

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Media captionHerman Cain: "I have never sexually harassed anyone... A thorough investigation concluded these claims had no basis"

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain has strongly denied allegations of sexual harassment against him, but said a settlement was reached in the 1990s.

He told Fox News he had "never" committed harassment, before clarifying his position in a later interview.

Politico reported that two female employees complained of sexually suggestive behaviour from Mr Cain.

It said the National Restaurant Association paid them to leave the group and not speak on the allegations.

Mr Cain told Fox News: "I've never sexually harassed anyone."

"And yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association, and I say falsely because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless."

However, his recollection of whether or not settlements were made changed over the course of Monday.

During the Fox interview, Mr Cain said he had no idea whether the trade association provided financial settlements to the women who complained.

"If there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other officers at the restaurant association," he said.

Later, he told PBS: "I was aware an agreement was reached. The word 'settlement' versus the word 'agreement' you know, I'm not sure what they called it."

Mr Cain has additional media interviews scheduled on Tuesday.

'Witch hunt'

On Monday, the National Restaurant Association said it did not comment on personnel matters, while Mr Cain's campaign has denied the reports since the story emerged on Sunday evening.

"Let me tell you that Herman Cain has never sexually harassed anybody, period. End of story," Mr Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, told MSNBC on Monday morning.

Mr Block said top officials at the National Restaurant Association thought Mr Cain was "a man of total integrity".

A statement on Sunday attacked the story.

"Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr Cain's tenure as the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumours that never stood up to the facts," spokesman JD Gordon said.

The Cain campaign also responded on Twitter. "From Team HC: Sadly we've seen this movie played out before. Mr. Cain and all Americans deserve better," @THEHermanCain tweeted.

'Sexually suggestive'

Mr Cain, who was CEO of Godfather's Pizza before heading the restaurant lobby group, has taken a lead in opinion polls of Republican voters in recent weeks, despite never having held public office.

Politico said it had confirmed the identities of two former female employees of the National Restaurant Association who made sexual harassment complaints to colleagues and association officials about Mr Cain, but was not publishing their names out of concerns for their privacy.

The website said the allegations included conversations "filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature" at association events.

Mr Cain also allegedly gave "descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual, but that made women who experienced them or witnessed them uncomfortable".

Politico said its report was based on multiple sources and documentation, including the recollections of close associates of the two women.

When asked by Politico on Sunday about the allegations, Mr Cain said he has "had thousands of people working for me" at different businesses over the years and could not comment "until I see some facts or some concrete evidence".

A poll on Saturday placed Mr Cain ahead of his main rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, in Iowa, which holds the first of a series of state-by-state contests to choose the Republican candidate.

The hopefuls are vying to become the party's nominee to challenge President Barack Obama for the White House in November 2012.

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