Herman Cain offers conflicting responses to sexual harassment allegations

Herman Cain spent Monday trying to put out a fire that started when it was discovered that two previous coworkers had accused him of inappropriate, sexually suggestive behavior.

By , Associated Press

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    Herman Cain wipes his forehead before answering questions at the National Press Club in Washington, Monday. Denying he sexually harassed anyone, Cain said Monday he was falsely accused in the 1990s while he was head of the National Restaurant Association, and he branded revelation of the allegations a "witch hunt.".
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It's one of the starkest tests of viability for any presidential candidate: crisis management, the ability to step past an explosive charge and re-direct the news. Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, a relative newcomer to national politics, had trouble passing Monday during a whirlwind of speeches and interviews in the shadow of sexual harassment allegations.

"I'll never know why Jesus came to love me so," Cain crooned at the invitation of the event's moderator in closing Monday's National Press Club appearance. "He looked beyond all my faults and saw my needs."

It was a dramatic counterpoint to the rest of Cain's day in Washington, which he largely spent denying that he had sexually harassed anyone and calling any such reports "a witch hunt."

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Politico reported Sunday that the National Restaurant Association gave financial settlements to at least two female employees who worked for Cain and had accused him of inappropriate, sexually suggestive behavior when he headed the trade group.

Throughout the day Monday, Cain offered conflicting responses as to whether he remembered the specifics of the allegations or the existence of settlements with the women.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Cain was asked whether he was aware of the women's specific allegations. "Some of them," he responded.

But when pressed, he said was not aware of any of the allegations.

Later, in a series of television interviews, Cain said he remembered some details after all.

The revelations upended Cain's series of speeches and meetings with members of Congress designed to reassure the nation's rule makers that he is ready for public office. But the revelations also raised questions anew about his fitness — and whether he can manage a crisis.

The former Godfather's Pizza chief executive confronted the situation rather than canceling his Washington schedule.

At the first event of the day, an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, he announced that he'd address the issues later: "I will take all your arrows," Cain said.

He then went full denial in back-to-back appearances and refused to talk specifics, either on Fox News or at the National Press Club.

And, even amid new questions about the viability of his White House bid, he tried to argue that it was business as usual.

"What you can expect from my campaign is for me to stay on message, for us to continue to do the things and execute our strategy in order to win the nomination," he said.

His campaign, meanwhile, attacked Politico, whose story was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what the publication said was a review of documentation that described the allegations and the resolution.

And Cain, himself, tried to employ humor.

"As a result of today's big news story, I really know what it feels like to be No. 1."

He also painted himself a victim.

"This bull's eye on my back has gotten bigger," Cain said. "We have no idea the source of this witch hunt."

And, finally, he invoked charm — and the bigger picture.

"My faith is a big part of who Herman Cain is. It's a big part of how I made this decision. It is a big part of this journey that we're on," Cain said. Invited to sing, he agreed. "Since it's an opportunity for me to share a little bit of my faith, I will."

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