By SHANNON McCAFFREY (Associated Press)
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain went on the offensive Tuesday against a woman who publicly accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
A different woman, who settled a sexual harassment claim against Herman Cain when he was head of the National Restaurant Association, also spoke out.
Karen Kraushaar, who received a $45,000 settlement, says she would join other accusers in a joint news conference.
Cain, however, maintained his innocence. He vowed to continue to campaign.
”Who is Sharon Bialek?” Cain’s advisers asked in a statement outlining the Chicago-area woman’s ”long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances.” Bialek on Monday accused Cain of behaving inappropriately when the two were alone more than a decade ago.
The statement from Cain’s campaign included references to civil lawsuits in the Cook County Court system in Illinois allegedly relating to Bialek, and cited news reports of her involvement in a paternity case and a bankruptcy filing. The statement, coming less than 24 hours after Bialek went public, presumably was an effort to make her appear less credible.
”In stark contrast to Mr. Cain’s four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder rising to the level of CEO at multiple successful business enterprises, Ms. Bialek has taken a far different path,” the campaign said.
”There is not an ounce of truth to all these allegations” and the graphic account from Bialek is ”totally fabricated,” the Georgia businessman told late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
At least one of Cain’s rivals for the GOP nomination called on him to address the accusations.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the allegations ”particularly disturbing” and said Cain must address them.
”These are serious allegations and they’re going to have to be addressed,” Romney told ABC News/Yahoo! in an interview Tuesday.
Bialek stood by her accusation when questioned Tuesday morning in the wake of Cain’s denial, saying in a nationally broadcast interview that she had ”nothing to gain” by coming forward. She said ”it’s not about me. I’m not running for president.”
With the controversy now stretching into its second week, Cain reversed his position from just a few days ago when he told reporters he was done answering questions about the issue.
That was before Bialek went on national television Monday and put a name and a face to what had, until then, been at least three anonymous sexual harassment allegations against Cain. Bialek’s accusations — that Cain groped her in a car after she asked for his help finding a job — spun his unorthodox campaign into an uncertain new territory.
An upstart in the presidential race, Cain shot to the top of public opinion polls and emerged, however temporarily, in surveys as the main conservative challenger to Mitt Romney. Tea Party activists and conservatives unenthused with the former Massachusetts governor have flocked to Cain’s tell-it-like-it-is style and self-styled outsider image in recent weeks.
There were, however, growing signs of unease in conservative circles as, one by one, a handful of women claimed Cain acted inappropriately toward them while the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Still, Cain backers remained solidly behind the former pizza company executive. They pointed to the presence of Gloria Allred — a high-profile attorney with Democratic ties — alongside Bialek at Monday’s news conference in New York as proof that the latest claim was a partisan smear.
Bialek said Tuesday she had no financial motivation to come forward, wasn’t offered a job and wasn’t being asked by Allred to pay a legal fee.
”I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” she said in one interview. Bialek said she waited so long to come forward because ”I was embarrassed … and I just kind of wanted it to go away.”
Asked about Cain’s characterization of her charges as a ”total fabrication,” Bialek stood her ground. ”I wanted to give him a platform to come clean, to tell the truth,” she said. ”I was trying to be nice about it and it just didn’t work.”
Bialek is the fourth woman to say that Cain engaged in inappropriate behavior during his time at the helm of the restaurant group. At least two women who worked there at the time filed sexual harassment complaints.
Bialek said Monday that Cain, an acquaintance, made a sexual advance in mid-July 1997, when she had traveled to Washington to have dinner with him in hopes he could help her find work or get her job back at the restaurant association. She had been fired from a job in the group’s education arm.
The two met in Washington, she said, and after dinner were in a car for what she thought was a ride to an office building.
”Instead of going into the offices he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg, under my skirt toward my genitals,” she said. ”He also pushed my head toward his crotch.”
She said she asked Cain what he was doing and recalled he replied, ”You said you want a job, right?”
Minutes after Bialek’s news conference, the Cain camp flatly denied the charges.
”Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone,” spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a statement. Aides insisted that the newest allegation changed nothing and said Cain would move forward with his plans to attend a private speech in Phoenix on Tuesday and a debate Wednesday night in Michigan.
”The questions the media should be asking are who’s paying for Gloria Allred’s fee, how did Ms. Bialek get introduced to Ms. Allred, and was she paid to come forward with these false accusations or was she promised employment?” a campaign statement said.
Allred has said Bialek approached her and that her client received no compensation for stepping forward.