An adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential bid told CNN Thursday that he knew nothing about allegations of sexual harassment against his former boss and major Perry rival, Herman Cain, until recent news reports of them -- directly contradicting a claim by Cain.
Curt Anderson, who worked on Cain's unsuccessful 2004 U.S. Senate campaign in Georgia and is now a consultant to Perry's campaign against Cain and other Republican presidential hopefuls, told CNN: "I didn't know anything about any of this."
On Wednesday, Cain pointed the finger at Anderson. He told Forbes magazine that in 2003, he told Anderson about one case. "Those charges were baseless, but I thought he needed to know about them," Cain told Forbes. "I don't recall anyone else being in the room when I told him."
In the CNN interview Thursday, Anderson insisted Cain never told him about the accusations.
"It's hard to leak something you don't know anything about," he said. Asked directly about the conversation Cain claimed they had eight years ago, Anderson said: "I don't have any knowledge of any of this and, you know, it's just not true."
Cain's chief campaign strategist, Mark Block, told Fox News later Thursday that he accepted Anderson's denial and wanted to move on from the controversy that has dogged his candidate all week.
"Until we get all the facts, I'm just going to say that we accept what Mr. Anderson has said, and we want to move on with the campaign," said Block, who earlier called for Perry and his campaign to apologize to Cain for allegedly leaking the story of sexual harassment allegations to the media.
The allegations first reported Sunday by Politico emerged as Cain rose to the top of the polls in the GOP race to run against President Barack Obama next year.
A former businessman who touts himself as a political outsider, Cain has run an unorthodox campaign that made him an early choice of conservatives seeking an alternative to the more moderate Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts.
Republican strategist Ed Rollins said Thursday that Cain's campaign lacks the usual elements to deal with such controversies that inevitably arise.
"They take great pride in not being a real campaign," Rollins told CNN. "They don't have a war room. They don't have a response team."
Rollins, until recently a chief adviser to Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota -- another of Cain's rivals in the presidential nomination race -- noted that Politico first asked the Cain campaign about the sexual harassment allegations 10 days before running the story."
"Ten days is a lifetime in politics," Rollins said. "They should have been prepared for this."
Anderson spoke highly of his former employer and suggested that the pressure of the sexual harassment story was getting to the former businessman.
"Candidates, when they get into a firestorm like this, have sometimes come unraveled," Anderson said. "It seems to me that they're kind of grasping at straws and fishing around trying to figure out what to do, how to get out of this."
Saying he was "disappointed" that Cain "tried to use me as a pawn to try to get out of this mess he's in," Anderson said he was "not going to use that to discolor everything I know about the guy."
When asked whether he may take legal action against Cain, Anderson said: "No, I don't have any interest in anything like that."
The Perry campaign also said it did not know about the allegations until Politico first published the story Sunday.
"No one at our campaign was involved in this story in any way," Perry campaign communications director Ray Sullivan said. "Any claim to the contrary is patently false."
On Wednesday, Cain's campaign called a report that a third former employee claimed he engaged in inappropriate behavior an example of "baseless allegations."
The former National Restaurant Association employee said she considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain, the Associated Press reported. She said Cain made sexually suggestive remarks or gestures and that the behavior included a private invitation to Cain's corporate apartment, according to the AP. The two worked together in the late 1990s, the report said.
"He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-Beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself," said J.D. Gordon, a Cain campaign spokesman. "Since his critics have not been successful in attacking his ideas, they are resorting to bitter personal attacks. Mr. Cain deserves better."
Wes Anderson, Curt Anderson's brother, acknowledged their firm was recently hired by the Perry campaign. He, too, denied any knowledge of the allegations before the story broke in Politico about allegations against Cain.
The Perry campaign also suggested the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might have planted the story, a contention denied by Romney's camp.
Appearing before a consumer group in Virginia Wednesday morning, Cain accused his critics of engaging in the politics of personal destruction, and he insisted his candidacy would survive the maelstrom.
"There is a force at work here that is much greater than those that would try to destroy me and destroy this campaign," the former Godfather's Pizza CEO said. "That force is called the voice of the people. That's why we are doing as well as we are."
Cain referenced a new Quinnipiac University national poll showing him leading the GOP field with 30% support among registered Republicans, compared with 23% for Romney. The survey, however, was conducted almost entirely before news of the allegations came out.
Later, a visibly irritated Cain refused to discuss the issue with reporters, telling them "don't even bother asking ... all of these other questions that you all are curious about."
Cain also met behind closed doors Wednesday on Capitol Hill with Republican lawmakers.
The controversy apparently hasn't hurt the candidate's campaign war chest. It was able to garner more than $400,000 Tuesday, eclipsing Monday's record tally, Cain campaign spokesman Gordon told CNN.
Politico's report Sunday alleged that two female employees at the National Restaurant Association accused Cain of inappropriate behavior during his tenure as head of the organization in the late 1990s. The women, according to Politico, each received separation packages in the five-figure range.
One of the packages totaled $35,000 -- equivalent to that staffer's annual salary, according to the New York Times.
On Monday, Cain forcefully denied all of the charges and said he was "not aware of any (legal) settlement."
Later, Cain changed his tune, saying he did in fact know about a "separation agreement" in one of the cases.
The candidate told HLN's Robin Meade on Tuesday that the agreement provided one of his accusers "in the vicinity of three to six months' severance pay." The payment was "not outside our guidelines for what most people get ... when they leave the Restaurant Association involuntarily," he claimed.
While the Cain campaign had first been approached by Politico 10 days before the story was first published, the candidate himself said he was only remembering many details of the incident on Monday.
"In 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head," he said.
Cain continued to vehemently deny the allegations, telling HLN: "I have never committed sexual harassment in my entire career. Period."
Meanwhile, an attorney representing one of the alleged harassment victims told CNN that he will send a draft statement by his client to the National Restaurant Association on Thursday to seek its approval.
"I will be asking the association to allow us to release the public statement without violating the confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions of the 1999 settlement agreement," said the attorney, Joel Bennett.
On Wednesday, Bennett said his client hopes to "set the record straight as to the complaints," but would provide no interviews.
Bennett contacted the association on Wednesday morning, according to Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the group. A representative of the association "promptly returned his call" and asked him to contact the group's outside counsel, Hensley said.
Asked why his client would not reveal her identity, Bennett said "she doesn't want to become another Anita Hill ... that's not her interest or expectation," referring to the woman who 20 years ago went public with sexual harassment allegations against then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and was the subject of criticism.
Bennett told CNN his client, who is now a federal government employee and who has worked at several departments, would like to put this behind her and is not a publicity seeker.
Asked Tuesday night on Fox News if he would push the Restaurant Association to go along with a request to waive the confidentiality agreement, Cain said he couldn't answer the question because of "legal implications."
Cain insisted that he had not violated the confidentiality terms himself by talking about the claims to the media.
"I never used their name," Cain told Fox. "For one of them, I didn't even know the name."
Cain has so far only released details about one of the allegations, saying it involved him gesturing to one of the women that she was the same height as his wife -- about 5 feet tall -- and came up to his chin.
Bennett did not indicate which of the alleged victims he represents, though he said his client is taller than 5 feet. He said the client is "happily married."
For his part, Cain has said he has no recollection of a second incident. According to Politico, however, one of the allegations involves an "unwanted sexual advance" at a hotel room in Chicago.
Separately, an Oklahoma Republican political consultant told CNN Wednesday he personally witnessed Cain demonstrate inappropriate conduct toward a female employee during Cain's tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association. Chris Wilson first made the charge earlier in the day in an interview with KTOK, an Oklahoma radio station.
The alleged incident "occurred at a restaurant in Crystal City (Virginia) and everybody was aware of it," said Wilson -- a consultant for the organization at the time -- in the KTOK interview.
"It was only a matter of time because so many people were aware of what took place, so many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up."
Wilson is currently doing polling for a political action committee supporting Perry's bid, but the group is independent of the campaign and by law cannot coordinate with it. until we get all the facts, I'm just going to say that we accept what Mr. Anderson has said, and we want to move on with the campaign.
CNN's Gloria Borger, Tom Cohen, Alan Silverleib, Joshua Levs, Kevin Bohn, Mark Preston, Jim Acosta, Phil Gast and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this story.
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