Witness: Cain met harassment accuser
15 November 2011, 15:54
US - Presidential contender Herman Cain's attempts to put a sexual harassment scandal to rest were set back on Monday as a witness disputed the candidate's claim that he had never met one of his accusers.
The account of Victor Jay Zuckerman, a former boyfriend of the accuser, challenged the credibility of Cain, a former pizza executive who has been unexpectedly running at the top of the polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Cain has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Lin Wood, said Cain stood by his earlier statement that he does not remember Sharon Bialek, Zuckerman's ex-girlfriend and one of four women who claim Cain had sexually harassed them when he headed a restaurant trade group in the 1990s.
He has been running neck-and-neck with former Massachusetts Governor and venture capitalist Mitt Romney. Romney remains the favourite of the Republican establishment and has seen challengers to his pre-eminence rapidly rise and fade over the past few months.
Losing female support
Cain denies the allegations and claims donations to his campaign are rising because of what he claims is a smear campaign.
Polls of Republican primary voters, however, show some of his support among women is fading. As that has happened, former congressman Newt Gingrich has gained ground.
Zuckerman's account of an evening he, Sharon Bialek and Cain spent together in 1997 directly contradicts the candidate's assertions that he had never met his accuser and did not recognise her name.
"During the National Restaurant Association (NRA) convention in Chicago, Sharon indeed did meet and spend time with Mr Cain," Zuckerman said at a news conference, describing an after-party Cain had invited them to in a hotel suite after an event in Chicago.
Cain was chief executive of the Washington lobbying group at the time.
"At that party, Mr Cain engaged both of us in conversation," Zuckerman said.
Did not see incident
Zuckerman did not witness alleged sexual advances. He could only confirm that they and Cain had met.
"When she returned, she was upset," Zuckerman said. "She said that something had happened and that Mr Cain had touched her in an inappropriate manner. She said she handled it and didn't want to talk about it any further."
Zuckerman said Bialek told him that Cain inappropriately touched her later that year when she met him in Washington to seek employment help after being fired from the association.
Cain on Monday stood by his earlier statement that he does not remember Bialek, said his attorney, Lin Wood.
"He doesn't recall Ms Bialek," Wood said, reiterating that Cain has denied making untoward sexual advances toward anyone.
More bad news
Wood said Cain met with a large number of people as head of the restaurant group. If someone remembers meeting Cain, Wood said it is possible Cain would not remember them.
Cain has defiantly denied any wrongdoing but he also has been unable to put the questions behind him.
Cain has vowed to stay in the race for the Republican nomination and has deployed his wife of 43 years to defend him.
Some of Cain's die-hard supporters said they did not believe the sexual harassment charges levelled against the candidate.
"I'm sorry, but it's not in Herman Cain's character," said Stacie Curtis, a volunteer leader for Cain supporters in Alabama, shortly before Zuckerman spoke. "Nobody believes it."
In another possible setback for the candidate on Monday, a video released by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper shows him struggling to answer basic policy questions, including a request for his assessment of US policy in Libya.
Meanwhile Texas Governor Rick Perry, in an effort to turn around his poor performance in recent polls, told Iowa Republican activists that he is proposing a fundamental overhaul over all three branches of government.
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