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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Herman Cain Holds a News Conference to Address Sexual Harassment Allegations

Aired November 8, 2011 - 17:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LIN WOOD, CAIN'S ATTORNEY: Good afternoon. My name is Lin Wood, and I'm one of the attorneys for Herman Cain. I've been practicing law in Georgia for a little over 34 years, and I have had the opportunity in my practice of law to represent female victims of sexual harassment. Serious, legitimate claims of sexual harassment are not settled for nuisance value.

I have also had the opportunity in my law practice to represent victims of sexual assault. When they have come to my law office, I did not take them out and parade them in front of the cameras in a national press conference, and then arrange for them to go on a campaign with the media to give one interview after another after another. They resolved their claims in a court of law.

I have also had the privilege to represent a number of innocent victims accused by the media of serious crimes, false accusations, where those individuals found themselves on trial in the court of public opinion -- on trial in the court of public opinion, where there are no rules. The rules are made up by the media. There are no procedures designed to safeguard the integrity of the process, to ensure that a fair and a just result is achieved.

Herman Cain finds himself over the course of the last several days now on trial in the court of public opinion, falsely accused, first by anonymous sources and now yesterday by Sharon Bialek, who chose to come forward for whatever reason after 14 years, when recollections have faded, witnesses cannot be located, to for the first time -- for the first time in 14 years -- to tell her story to a third person -- for the first time.

And now Herman Cain in the court of public opinion has to respond not to admissible evidence, he has to respond to hearsay. He has to respond to rumors and speculation. He's not afforded the opportunity for me to cross-examine his accusers. He's not afforded the safeguards that are part of our system of justice.

But he comes before you today to defend his reputation, a reputation that he has built over 40 years of being a good and decent man and a successful businessperson. I ask that you at least afford him fairness and that you view his efforts to defend his reputation and his good name by maintaining your common sense and remembering your own life's experience to decide whether or not a story that is so inherently improbable on its face should be utilized by others with their own agendas to attack this man's reputation.

It's my privilege to represent him and my privilege to step aside from this podium and let you hear from him, Herman Cain.

HERMAN CAIN (R-GA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Lin. Good afternoon. I am Herman Cain, and I'm running for president of the United States of America.

I normally don't have notes, but in this case, I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss any points that I needed to cover today. Secondly, I chose to address these accusations directly, rather than try to do it through a series of continuous statements or spokespeople because that's the person Herman Cain is, is to take my message directly to the people.

With respect to the most recent accusation, I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period! I saw Ms. Allred and her client yesterday in that news conference for the very first time. As I sat in my hotel room with a couple of my staff members, as they got to the microphone, my first response in my mind and reaction was, I don't even know who this woman is. Secondly, I didn't recognize the name at all.

The time that she referenced was during the time that I was the CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association. It's headquartered in Washington, D.C., where about 150 workers work, and we have about 150 people in Chicago, where she said she worked for our educational foundation. I tried to remember if I recognized her, and I didn't. I tried to remember if I remembered that name, and I didn't.

The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject. They simply didn't happen. They simply did not happen.

You know, for decades, the American people have wanted a businessman in the White House, and not just another politician, because for decades, all that the politicians have been doing is just kicking the can down the road, trim a little bit here, trim a little bit there when America's biggest problems simply got worse.

Well, a businessman by the name of Herman Cain stepped forward. Here I am. But I know from the American people that I have talked with and I have spoken with over the past several months, we are not going to allow Washington or politics to deny me the opportunity to represent this great nation.

And as far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race -- ain't going to happen because I'm doing this for the American people and for their children and for their grandchildren, and I will not be deterred by false, anonymous, incorrect accusations.

America believes that Washington is broken. America believes that our system of getting elected is broken. In part, it is. But in another part, it's not. As long as we have decency and honesty in the electoral process, it will work. But when we allow deceit and false accusations to rule the day and distract us, that part is broken.

Nine days ago, the media started to beat me up covering anonymous accusers, and then yesterday, another accuser came forth, identified herself, went on TV, and made some other allegations. Was it tough last week? Yes. Has it been tough the last couple of days? Yes.

But you see, that's one thing about Herman Cain that I think that a lot of the American people know, and that is, just because it's tough, there's no reason for me not to do what I feel like I have to do. And because of what the American people have said to me during these turbulent times, we will get through this. We will get through this.

The fact is, these anonymous allegations are false, and now the Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false accusations, statements, many of which exceed common sense, and they certainly exceed the standards of decency in America.

I have been married for 43 years to my wife, Gloria -- 43 years I've been married to my wife. After watching that press conference yesterday, I called her and I said, Sweetheart, did you see it? She said, Yes. I said, What did you think? And my wife said, and this is a direct quote, "I have known you for 46 years," because we were engaged for two years, "that doesn't even sound like anything that you would ever do to anyone."

Sexual harassment allegations are serious. And respect for women and all people that I have worked with or people that have worked for me over the years has been a top priority with respect to me.

Now, my family fully supports my candidacy, and they know the man that I am. They've been with me all of their lives, my kids. They know who I am. They know the man that I am. However, I ask that the media not drag my family into this. They're not running for president. Some members of your profession have even stalked my family members, calling members of my family and extended family members. I ask you as professionals to direct your questions, your criticisms toward me, not my family.

My reputation is something that I've worked over 40 years to build up. I have managed many entities, many companies. I have managed organizations with thousands and thousands and thousands of employees. And now that I'm running for the highest office in the land (SOUND DROP) some anonymous, some not so anonymous, are now coming to light. This is not a surprise. It was expected.

But I will vigorously defend my reputation because I will not allow false accusations to compromise or in any way shed badly on my character and my integrity. And this is why I've decided to address these issues directly and forthrightly.

I will repeat, I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period. And these accusations that were revealed yesterday simply did not happen.

We are going to take some questions. J.D. Gordon, my communications vice president -- we will take a few questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you ask your question, please state your name and your media agency, please. CAIN: And please use the microphone.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, Steve Fudderman (ph) with CBS News. I'd like to ask you a two-part question. First of all, do you think it is appropriate for a candidate's character to come under a microscope in a campaign?

And secondly, you are basically now in a "He said, she said" situation. She's saying something, you're saying something. They're both diametrically opposing each other. As distasteful as it might be, would you be willing to do a lie-detector test to prove your honesty in something like this...

CAIN: Yes.

QUESTION: ... even though I'm sure -- oh, go ahead.

CAIN: Yes. I absolutely would. But I'm not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that. That was one of the first comments that I made in watching this, to my staff. I've also shared that with my attorney. Of course I would be willing to do a lie-detector test.

Secondly, I believe that the character and integrity of a candidate running for president should come under a microscope -- with facts, not accusations.

QUESTION: Tim Gainer (ph), Reuters News Agency.

Mr. Cain, an Ipsos/Reuters poll released this afternoon showed that 40 percent of Republican voters view you less favorably after seeing Monday's accusations from Sharon Bialek.

Given that reaction, how can you convince non-supporters to vote for you?

CAIN: Well, first of all, you don't need 100 percent of the voters. You need 51 percent.

It is natural that some voters would be turned off by the mere mention of the accusations. That's normal and that's expected. And all you have to do is to look at campaigns historically, and you are able to identify those situations where some members of the public, some of the voting electorate are going to be influenced by the court of public opinion in formulating their impression.

But the good news for me and my campaign is that most of my supporters have not reacted to this in terms of belief. Many of them have expressed their outpouring support for the fact that these incidents simply did not happen. So rebuilding the trust on the part of some people, yes, that would be a challenge.

But I want to continue to represent those that have chose to support me and those that are willing to look at the facts, and not hearsay.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Cain. It's Robin Abcarian from "The L.A. Times." Yesterday, you called these charges insignificant stuff. I think everyone who's ever worked in a restaurant environment knows that sexual harassment can be very commonplace. My question to you is, do you believe sexual harassment is real? Have you ever seen it? What did you see? And how did you deal with it?

CAIN: Let me reiterate that sexual harassment is a very serious charge.

In no way have I tried to minimize sexual harassment in the workplace. Having led many organizations, yes, I have seen instances where it could be interpreted as sexual harassment. And if I saw it, and if it were an employee or a direct report of mine, I dealt with it immediately, before the other person perceived it as an infringement of their privacy.

And I might add, it's not just men who potentially sexually harass women. I have always seen situations where women have sexually -- attempted to sexually harass men. It's very serious. And I have made sure that that wasn't something that was tolerated in any organization that I was responsible for.

QUESTION: Jonathan Karl with ABC News.

CAIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, now another woman, one of the formerly anonymous women, has come forward who worked with you at the Restaurant Association, Karen Kraushaar. She's now a spokesperson for the Treasury Department and has come forward publicly.

What do you say to her and -- and -- or her allegations? This is somebody who is still working in the U.S. government. Are her allegations not true? Is she lying about them?

CAIN: Well, to the best of my recollection, since you mentioned that particular name, that is the one that I recall that filed a complaint, but it was found to be baseless.

Let's separate something. The accusations were made of sexual harassment. They were found baseless. There was no legal settlement. There was an agreement between that lady and the National Restaurant Association, and it was treated as a personnel matter because there was no basis to her accusations. Those are the facts.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CAIN: When she made her -- when she made her accusations, they were found to be baseless and she could not find anyone to corroborate her story. The Restaurant Association handled it. They went through a process to get to the point where it ended up being an agreement, not a settlement.

Now, let me clarify that little point. I have been criticized by some members of the media that I have changed my story. When the firestorm started a week ago Monday, I was presented with the accusation of some settlement was made.

Settlement, to me, means that there were legal implications. Later, during that same day, I then recalled, after all those years, that there was an agreement. That's what businesses sign with employees who are departing the company. They call it an agreement. Settlement implies legal implications. All of the potential legal implications or ramifications or accusations were found to be baseless.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) "Wall Street Journal."

Still, Mr. Cain, there are now a total of four women who have accused you of some form of sexual harassment. How do you explain that? Are they making it up? Is that plausible? Can you explain how -- where you think this is coming from? Thank you.

CAIN: Well, I happen to think where it's coming from is that some people don't want to see Herman Cain get the Republican nomination, and some people don't want Herman Cain to become president of the United States of America.

As you know, when you run for the highest office in the land, there are going to be some accusations that are going to come out of the woodwork. They're going to come from anywhere. And I have said this before. There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless.

And if they continue to come, I will continue to respond. I can't answer why the ones that have already made these one anonymous accusations and one that was, you know -- you know, put their face on TV, started a media campaign to basically try and slander my integrity and my character, I can't tell you what their motivation is, other than it's to stop Herman Cain.

I believe that the American people are saying that they're not going to let that happen.

QUESTION: Steve Krafft, FOX 10 News here in Phoenix.

Mitt Romney has been quoted as saying he finds these accusations to be disturbing. Can you react to that observation by Mr. Romney and tell us what you think is behind it or what it means?

CAIN: Sure.

Sexual harassment is a very serious matter, as I have said. I find the accusations disturbing, but false. I don't believe Governor Romney was saying that he thought I was guilty of any of these accusations. But, yes, they're disturbing, because they distract (AUDIO GAP) from taking our message to the American people, talking about solutions. They distract from the whole Republican primary process.

So he's right. But I don't think he was saying that I was disturbing because I have been accused. I believe that he was saying, because I know Mitt Romney and his integrity, that he was referring to the fact that it's disturbing that these accusations -- accusations that are not factually based are disturbing to this process.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, Lee Ross with FOX News.

You made several mentions of the machine, the Democratic machine. Who are these people? Who is involved in this? Is it a conspiracy?

CAIN: I cannot -- I cannot say that it is a conspiracy.

We do not have definitive factual proof. We can only look at some coincidences to suggest it, that maybe someone is deliberately behind this. So we have not been able to make any determination, to point any fingers, or place any blame on anybody at this point.

When we step back and look at the fact that there's no facts, no factual evidence to back these up, we can only infer that someone is trying to basically wreck my character and, like the other gentleman alluded to, plant doubt in the minds of a lot of the people who are going to go to the polls and vote.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, Andrew Rafferty, NBC News.

I'm just curious, what role do you think Sharon Bialek's past financial troubles play in her allegations against you?

CAIN: She claims that her past financial situation, the number of civil lawsuits she's been involved in, she claims that it does not play a role in her coming forward.

I can't respond any further than that. That's her claim. But from a commonsense standpoint, one would have to ask if, in fact, that might not have been a motivation for her being subjected to this.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Cain, Tracy (OFF-MIKE) with CNN.

CAIN: Hello.

QUESTION: In terms of the other case that was found baseless from that accuser, who found it to be baseless? And, if so, why was she paid tens of thousands of dollars?

CAIN: Well, I'm not sure of the tens of thousands of dollars figure that you're referring to, so I'm not going to get caught in that trap.

It was negotiations between -- I'm only referring to the one lady that actually filed charges. OK? That's the only one I can respond to. She got an attorney and she and her attorney negotiated and talked with the attorney for the National Restaurant Association.

I can't even remember if we got outside counsel in this case. I think we probably did. So it was a situation where they worked back and forth, and they came to the conclusion that it should end with some sort of personnel separation agreement.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CAIN: She worked at the Restaurant Association for a period of time. I do recall that before I left the Restaurant Association, she was in the process of leaving the association. I didn't have regular interaction, although, periodically, I would see her. And since she reported to my vice president -- one of my vice presidents, when we would have a planning meeting, she would attend the planning meeting, because, typically, when I would do a planning meeting, I would not only bring in my direct reports. I would bring in the next level down.

She was at that next level down. So that was the interaction, in terms of me seeing her on a regular basis. In -- during that particular period in the time, because I was the president of the National Restaurant Association -- today, it has over 14 million people working in the industry, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of restaurants -- I spent most of my time traveling and giving speeches around the country to state restaurant associations, as well as other speeches that I needed to give. I was not in the office a lot. I was out in the field more than I was in the office.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, hi, Lindsey Boerma with CBS News and "National Journal."

You have said again today that it's been so many years and you later recalled that there was a financial agreement that you didn't originally remember. Now you say you don't remember Sharon Bialek, that yesterday was the first time that you have seen her. Is there a possibility that it's just been too many years and that you could recall some specific details later?

CAIN: That's a possibility, but I think it's a remote possibility, you know? I'm not an expert on how the brain works, but I do know that I sat there and went over and over and over and over in my mind, do I know this lady? The answer kept coming up, no.

I watched her again today when she appeared on FOX News with her attorney during this interview, sitting there, trying to remember, do I know her? I didn't recognize the face. I didn't recognize the name, nor the voice.

And so you're right. Is that a possibility? Yes. But I happen to think that's a remote possibility. And here's why. One of the things that people who have worked with me for years will tell you is that I'm pretty good at remembering people, especially people that have had a positive impact in my life or a positive impact on my business. I'm pretty good at remembering people that I have met who have made some sort of impression on me.

So in this particular case -- in this particular case, I seriously doubt if I'm going to have an aha moment later and say, oh, yes, I remember that. I just don't think that's going to happen.

QUESTION: Mr. Cain, Marc Lacey with "The New York Times."

Karen Kraushaar, who just spoke to our newspaper within the last hour, can you tell us what she accused you of specifically and what your interactions with her were? You came close to answering that, but you stopped. This is your press conference where you're going to level with us and tell us what happened. So tell us what she accused you of and tell us what really happened. This is your chance. Thank you.

CAIN: Well, I can only recall one thing that I was aware of that was called sexual harassment.

The one thing that I remember -- that I remembered during the day when all of this broke loose -- is that one day, in my office at the National Restaurant Association, I was standing next to Miss Kraushaar, and I gestured, standing near her, like this, "You're the same height as my wife," because my wife comes up to my chin.

That was the one gesture that I remember. The door was open. My secretary was sitting there. It wasn't anything behind closed doors. I gestured because of her height, comparing it to my wife's height. End of story.

Other things that might have been in the accusations, I'm not even aware of, I don't remember. That one, I remember, because that was the one that my general counsel came to me and said, the one that appears to be the one that she was most upset about was that. So I really can't tell you anymore, because I don't recall it anymore, and that's the only one I remember.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CAIN: She did not react at the time, absolutely did not react at the time.

Let me say this, folks, in closing. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for us having an opportunity to share my perspective on this.

This nation faces tremendous crises. I would hope that we could get back to sharing with the American people solutions to the problems that we face. We're not going to allow ourselves to continuously be distracted by these sort of incidents.

I will respond to them, but we cannot slow this campaign down when we need to be dealing with our economic crisis, our spending crisis, our energy crisis, our foggy foreign policy crisis, illegal immigration crisis, and a crisis of leadership in the White House in Washington, D.C.

That's what I'm going to continue to focus on, on behalf of the American people, not for me, but for the grandkids. Thank you all very much for your attendance.

(APPLAUSE)