WASHINGTON -- Herman Cain escaped.
The Republican presidential candidate made it off the stage at the National Press Club on Monday relatively unscathed, swatting back allegations that he sexually harassed two women in the 1990s and then closing out his appearance by singing about redemption.
He is by no means out of the woods in dealing with the accusations. But the charismatic political performer survived his first high pressure moment in the spotlight with a dash of style.
Cain entered the Press Club less than 24 hours after Politico reported that the former Godfather's Pizza CEO and head of the National Restaurant Association was accused of sexual harassment by two unnamed women at the association. The charges were not detailed but Politico reported that both women received payments as settlement. NBC News reported Monday that they had independently confirmed a settlement with one of the two women.
He was not pressed on the matter for more than a few minutes of the roughly 30-minute question-and-answer session. As he discussed his tax reform proposal and other policy matters, Cain picked up steam. And when he was invited to sing by NPC president Mark Hamrick at the end, Cain obliged. He sang the first verse, from memory, to the gospel tune "He Looked Beyond My Faults."
"Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise. For it was grace that brought me liberty. I'll never know why Jesus came to love me so. He looked beyond all my faults. And saw my need," Cain sang in a low and soulful baritone.
Cain was so caught up in the moment that he sat down after finishing with a giant grin on his face, and seemed ready to stay there until an aide came and whispered in his ear, likely reminding him to leave the room as quickly as possible before he was ambushed by reporters. He immediately rose and followed the aide out.
Regardless of whether Cain's candidacy survives this controversy or not, Monday's appearance will likely go down as one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 election. A long shot presidential candidate, a black Republican who has never held elected office, faces charges of personal misconduct after sitting atop the polls for two weeks. He goes into a nationally televised speaking engagement and, while perhaps not giving the most plausible answers, performs with aplomb.
Cain said at the Press Club that the charges were unfounded and called the controversy -- which drew an overflow crowd of reporters to the event -- a "witch hunt." He said he did not know if there has ever been any settlement with his accusers.
"I have never sexually harassed anyone and those accusations are totally false," he said. "It was concluded, after a thorough investigation, that it had no basis."
"I am unaware of any sort of settlement," he added. "I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything."
Cain was not asked how he could have been unaware of a settlement if he knew the results of an investigation into the charges. He said that once the charges were brought against him he recused himself from the investigation.
And he added that he does not want the NRA to confirm or deny the settlements, or give any information at all about the incidents.
"There's nothing to shoot down. The policy of the restaurant association is not to divulge that sort of information," he said.
Politico reported that the women who received settlements signed nondisclosure agreements as part of the deals, but Cain seized on his alleged victims' anonymity in an attempt to dismiss the legitimacy of the reports.
"We're not going to chase anonymous sources when there's no basis for the accusation," he said. "As far as we're concerned, enough said about the issue. There's nothing else that they can dig up ... I told you this bullseye on my back has gotten bigger. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt, which is really what it is."
The NRA is not commenting.
"The incidents in question relate to personnel matters that allegedly took place nearly fifteen years ago. Consistent with our longstanding policy, we don’t comment on personnel issues relating to current or former employees," Sue Hensley, the NRA's senior vice president of public affairs, said in a statement.
Cain's denial at the Press Club echoed one he made earlier in the day during an interview on Fox News.
"Yes, I have never sexually harassed anyone. Let's say that. Secondly, I've never sexually harassed anyone, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association -- and I say falsely because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless," Cain said. "The people mentioned in that article were the ones who would be aware of any misdoings, and they have attested to my integrity and my character. It is totally baseless and totally false. Never have I committed any sort of sexual harassment."
Cain said in the interview that he was unaware of any settlement with his accusers but "if there was a settlement it was handled by some of the other officers that worked for me at the association."
Cain was also asked about reports that his campaign manager, Mark Block, had helped fund his campaign through nonprofit political groups in a possible violation of campaign finance law, a story first reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
"I'm not aware of this report. So my staff has not had time to go through it," Cain said. "I didn't even know about it until you brought it up on the show."
Cain also hinted that his campaign will soon make his wife, Gloria, available for an interview with him for the first time. She has been absent from the campaign trail until now.
"You will meet my wife publicly in an exclusive interview that we are currently planning and anticipating," Cain said.
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