Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Herman Cain is defending himself anew and — without evidence — blaming presidential rival Rick Perry's campaign of being behind the disclosure of years-old sexual harassment allegations against him. Cain is pressing forward, even as a third woman says she considered filing a complaint against him over sexually suggestive remarks and gestures.
"That is the DC culture: Guilty until proven innocent," Cain told Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in an interview published Thursday on The Daily Caller website.
As the allegations rocked his campaign for the fourth day, the Georgia businessman's team intensified its claim that Perry's advisers or allies were the source of the initial story — in Politico — on Sunday night. It disclosed that the National Restaurant Association had reached financial settlements with two former employees who complained the Cain had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior while head of the trade group in the 1990s.
Perry, himself, denied that he and his campaign were involved in anyway.
"We found out about the allegations against Mr. Cain the same time everybody else did," Perry told the Red State blog.
A Perry aide suggested that Mitt Romney's campaign was behind it, asserting ties between Romney's campaign backers, Cain and the trade group without providing evidence of any involvement. The former Massachusetts governor's campaign said it had nothing to do with the disclosures.
"I don't know what's true and what's not," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told NBC's "Today." ''I'm not going to get in the middle it. We're not the Sherlock Holmes of the presidential primary field."
"I'm not the referee," he added. "Primaries are tough."
In a statement Thursday, Politico's editor-in-chief John Harris said: "POLITICO, like other news organizations, can't be in the practice of confirming or denying who is or isn't a confidential source for our stories. The story we published has now been corroborated by a multitude of sources and other news organizations as accurate."
The finger-pointing came as Cain fought to contain the fallout of the allegations that were made public just two months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses and with polls showing him near the top of the pack national and in early voting states. The allegations — and Cain's shifting answers to questions about them since they were first disclosed — threaten to undermine a campaign that many establishment Republicans long have viewed as a long-shot to win the party's presidential nomination.
Conservatives have rallied around him, arguing — without any proof of liberal involvement — that the left was castigating Cain much as it did Thomas, also a black conservative, during his confirmation hearings in the early 1990s.
Cain has repeatedly denied that he sexually harassed anyone. Beyond that, he's offered a series of conflicting explanations.
After initially saying he knew of no settlements, he has acknowledged that he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He also has acknowledged knowing 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.
On Thursday, Joel P. Bennett — the lawyer for one of Cain's accusers — was seeking approval from the trade group for his client to issue a statement about her position, notwithstanding the confidentiality agreement she had signed as a part of the settlement.
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