First woman goes public with harassment claim against Cain; Update: "Very similar," says other accuser's lawyer

A week after Politico published vague, second-hand accounts of possible sexual harassment by Herman Cain during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association, one woman has gone on the record with specific allegations from fourteen years ago.  Sharon Bialek, described by her representative Gloria Allred as a single mom, says that Cain groped her — but backed off after she told him to stop:

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A fourth woman said Monday that presidential candidate Herman Cain engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with her more than decade ago, though Cain was not her supervisor at the time.

Sharon Bialek, the first woman to publicly accuse Cain of inappropriate behavior, said Cain was “sexually inappropriate” with her in 1997, saying he put his hand under her skirt and pushed her head toward his crotch after a dinner together. She said he backed away after she asked him to stop.

“I want you to come clean, Mr. Cain,” she said in a New York City press conference at the Friars Club with her attorney, Gloria Allred at her side. Allred is known for her media savvy and for representing women who have had legal issues with the rich and powerful.

Three other women have reportedly accused Cain of inappropriate behavior while he was running the National Restaurant Association, but none has made public charges against him.

Mediaite has the video of her statement and a transcript of the specific allegation:

At that time I had on a black pleated skirt, a suit jacket and a blouse. He had on a suit 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.

Cain immediately issued a statement regarding the charges:

Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain.

All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold “9-9-9 Plan”, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.

I’d call that a complete denial, but having someone go on the record will make it more difficult for Cain to ignore the story, as he had planned to do with last week’s allegations.  Despite Allred’s stupid comment about calling the incident Cain’s “idea of a stimulus package,” the fact that someone is willing to go on record and give specifics on a charge will make this seem a lot more credible than last week’s vague reporting from Politico.  Making that more difficult is the statement from Bialek and Allred that the purported victim is a Tea Party Republican, which might indicate less of a credibility issue than otherwise.

Update (Tina): A few more thoughts on this. At this point, it really is just her word (and the “word” of three anonymous accusers) against his — but her appearance of relative credibility will give the edge to hers. As The Anchoress pointed out, the MSM will attempt to force Cain to prove he didn’t do what Bialek said he did — when the burden of proof should be on Bialek to prove he did. Unless he goes to the extreme of suing Bialek and maybe not even then, Cain won’t be able to do that. Polls might show that voters have heretofore been unconcerned by the accusations, but the story won’t disappear now.

It’s in the GOP’s best interest, however, to return the public discussion to more important matters like the debt and unemployment. Because that will be difficult to do as long as Cain remains in the race, that’s a reason from a we-want-to-beat-Obama-standpoint for Republicans to want him out of the race (well, that, and a few policy-related reasons). Up to now, what he brought to the race outweighed what this story has taken from it. I’m not so sure now.

Still, character assassination shouldn’t be this easy. What’s to stop women from falsely accusing any candidate they want out of the race? This is an extremely frustrating case because even now, with on-the-record testimony and sworn statements, it’s plausible to think Cain never committed any of the indiscretions of which he’s been accused.

Update (Allahpundit): Corroboration? Depends on whether you trust Joel Bennett:

In an interview after Ms. Bialek’s news conference, Joel P. Bennett, a lawyer for one of Mr. Cain’s anonymous accusers, said that Ms. Bialek’s claims were “very similar” in nature to the incident that occurred between his client and Mr. Cain…

“It corroborates the claim,” Mr. Bennett said of Ms. Bialek’s allegation. Asked whether that meant that Mr. Cain had physically touched his client inappropriately, Mr. Bennett said “I can’t get more specific” but added that “I can say it is corroborating.”

Mr. Bennett also said that a woman named Sharon from Chicago left a message on his answering machine over the weekend saying that she, too, had been the subject of harassment at the hands of Mr. Cain. Mr. Bennett said he called her back to suggest that he could arrange for her to come forward confidentially, but that she said that she would think about it.

Update (Allahpundit): Cain’s odds on InTrade this morning were 6.4 percent. As of 3:15 this afternoon, they’re 2.4 percent. That’s a 64.5 percent drop.

Update (Ed): The National Restaurant Association confirms that Bialek worked for their educational foundation for six months, from December 1996 to June 1997, about the same time frame that Bialek gave in her statement. I doubt they will have much more to say about Bialek’s claim than this.