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Will Latest Cain Harassment Allegations Go Beyond ‘He Said, She Said’?

November 7, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Herman Cain faced new accusations of sexual harassment on Monday when a Chicago-area woman went before television cameras with graphic details. Judy Woodruff discusses what the fresh allegations mean for Cain's White House bid with Politico's Jonathan Martin.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Herman Cain faced new accusations of sexual harassment today. This time, they came from a Chicago-area woman who went before television cameras with graphic details.

Sharon Bialek today became the first woman to come forward publicly and accuse Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. In New York today, Bialek said she met Cain at a National Restaurant Association

conference in 1997, when Cain ran the organization. Soon after, she sought his help in finding a new job after being fired by the trade group.

Bialek recounted a meeting with Cain in July of that year in Washington.

SHARON BIALEK, accuses Herman Cain of sexual harassment: I met Mr. Cain in the lobby of the bar at the Capital Hilton at around 6:30 p.m. We had drinks at the hotel. And he asked how I liked my room, which is kind of normal. And I was very — I said I was very surprised. I said, I can’t believe that I have got this great suite. It’s gorgeous.

Mr. Cain kind of smirked and then said, “I upgraded you.”

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He then took me to an Italian restaurant, where we had dinner. During dinner, Mr. Cain looked at me and said, “Why are you here?”

I said, “Actually, Herman, my boyfriend, whom you met, suggested that I meet with you, and cause he thought you could help me, cause I really need a job. I was wondering if there’s anything available at the state association level or perhaps if you could speak to someone at the foundation to try to get my job back, perhaps even in a different department.”

He said, “I will look into that.”

He — while we were driving back to the hotel, he said that he would show me where the National Restaurant Association offices were. He parked the car down the block. I thought that we were going to go into the offices so that he could show me around.

At that time, I had on a black pleated skirt, a suit jacket and a blouse. He had on a suit with his shirt — with his shirt open. But instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals.

He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked.

I said: “What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for.”

Mr. Cain said, “You want a job, right?”

I asked him to stop, and he did. I asked him to take me back to my hotel, which he did right away. When I returned to New Jersey, where I was staying with my boyfriend that Mr. Cain had been — I told — when I was staying — when I was returned back to New Jersey, where I was staying, I told my boyfriend, Mr. Cain had been very sexually inappropriate with me, and, shortly thereafter, I told another friend of mine, who has been a mentor, the same thing.

I didn’t tell them the details because, quite frankly, I was very embarrassed that Mr. Cain had been sexually inappropriate to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bialek said she came forward after reports surfaced that at least three other women said Cain had sexually harassed them.

SHARON BIALEK: I’m coming forward to give a face and a voice to those women who cannot or, for whatever reasons, do not wish to come forward, and on behalf of all women who are sexually harassed in the workplace, but do not come, out of fear of retaliation or in public humiliation.

I really didn’t want to be here today and wouldn’t have been here if it had not been for the three other women who have alleged sexual harassment against — against Mr. Cain.

I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean. Just admit what you did. Admit you were inappropriate to people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cain’s campaign immediately released a statement that said — quote — “All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false.”

The embattled candidate has spent the past eight days trying to quell the controversy, including this on the NewsHour last Monday.

HERMAN CAIN, (R) presidential candidate: I have never sexually harassed anyone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The allegations and Cain’s shifting responses may be taking their toll, but it’s not clear. A Reuters poll released Sunday showed his favorability rating down nine points in the past week. A USA Today/Gallup survey out today had Cain tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in the Republican field.

For more on these latest allegations and the impact on the presidential campaign, we’re joined by Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for Politico. He was on the team that broke the original story last week.

Jonathan Martin, thank you for being here.

JONATHAN MARTIN, Politico: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What more is known about this woman, Sharon Bialek, who brought these charges today?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, we know that she worked for the organization for about a year in Chicago.

How it works is, this is a (INAUDIBLE) based in D.C., but their foundation is actually out in Chicago. And so they have a close tie to that city and they actually have their annual conventions there each May. So, she worked for that wing of the organization for about one year back in the late ’90s.

So this is not somebody that is just sort of appearing out of the ether. This is somebody that the NRA has confirmed to us that did in fact work there for this organization back in the late ’90s. And she’s making what are the first allegations against Mr. Cain that have two things that we have not seen yet. First of all, we have a name and a face. Second of all, we have details, and very explicit ones at that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And she said that — basically, as we just reported, she said had been let go by the organization. She went back to Herman Cain for help and that’s when all this happened.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: She also said, Jonathan Martin, that she saw Herman Cain about a month ago at a…

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What kind of an event?

JONATHAN MARTIN: A Tea Party event. So this is somebody who is a Republican. In fact, at the very onset of today’s press conference, Gloria Allred made very plain that she was in fact a registered Republican.

This lady said that she saw Mr. Cain and that he acted very awkward when he saw her. So there was some kind of recent contact between these two. But, again, I think what is important here are obviously the graphic nature of what she’s saying, but it’s also someone who is putting a name and a face for the very first time with these allegations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does this fit, what she’s saying happened, into what is known — and you have done a lot of this reporting — from…

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right. Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … from the other accusers, who have not come forward?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right.

Well, as far as the other accusers go, the closest that we have had in our reporting to details about one of them is that, in the late ’90s, this woman also an employee of the NRA, was in a hotel room with Mr. Cain during one of the trade group’s events, and that he made an explicit sexual overture to her, and that she was so angry at that, that she then told a board member of the organization mere hours later what had happened.

So we had — that was the closest thing that we had, was a sexual overture in a hotel room. This obviously is far more detailed than that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Cain himself, his campaign, flatly denying this, saying this didn’t happen.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how much credibility can we attach to this woman Sharon Bialek?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, Mr. Cain has from the get-go said that he has not harassed anybody. But he has not yet been confronted by somebody by name with an actual incident at a time and a place, like this manner today.

So, in my conversations today, Judy, with a lot of folks in the GOP, they’re saying, in light of these new allegations, Mr. Cain has to come forward and be transparent and be forceful and say what has happened, what he did and didn’t do, answer these allegations in more detail.

I think that when you had women with no names attached, it was easier for him to sort of bash the media. When you have somebody out there who is lodging these charges at a press conference with her name and her face for all the world to see, it puts him in a much more difficult spot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But at this point, is it simply she said/he said? Is that all? I mean, is there going to be any more to this?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Well, I mean, unless — she has the two witnesses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because there was no one there with her.

JONATHAN MARTIN: There was not witnesses, right.

She said that there were two people that she told contemporaneously. So they could potentially come forward. There’s also the possibility that other women could emerge and tell their side of the story, too. Again, for the last week, we have had women who have been very hesitant to talk, for all the obvious reasons. This could change that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What effect, Jonathan, is this having on the campaign so far, or is it having an effect?

JONATHAN MARTIN: It’s fascinating, because there are, Judy, basically two campaigns are going on at once.

There’s a campaign where President Obama, the incumbent, and Mitt Romney, the top challenger simply ignore this. And they have their own campaign going on. Then there’s the campaign where Herman Cain is leading in almost every state and national poll, and doesn’t seem to be impacted by this.

So it’s sort of interesting. At what point do the two campaigns converge? At what point do the other candidates in the race, be it Obama or Romney or the lower-tier candidates, actually start talking about this? Or does that ever happen at all? It’s been a fascinating spectacle over the course of the last week, a top candidate for president with some explosive charges against him, and his rivals don’t mention it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And yet — and today — well, for the rest of the week, there will be encounters with the media. There’s a debate scheduled later…

JONATHAN MARTIN: There’s a debate Wednesday night in Michigan. So he will face questions there, and then Saturday in South Carolina as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Martin with Politico, thanks very much.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Thank you, Judy.