Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Monday he was "falsely accused" of sexual harassment against at least two female employees while with the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
He confirmed, however, that he had been accused but denied the allegations, and said he was not involved in any payout.
Cain, a self-styled outsider relatively new to the national stage, faces a new level of scrutiny after a burst of momentum in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. He's been steadily at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early presidential nominating states, competitive with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Cain was responding to a Politico report that said the women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them five-figure financial payouts to leave the association and barred them from discussing their departures.
Cain told Fox News he has never sexually harassed anyone and that he was "falsely accused." He said investigations into any complaints found that they were "baseless."
But he also said he had no idea whether the trade association provided financial settlements to the women who complained. In a written statement, the National Restaurant Association refused to comment on a personnel matter.
In a statement Sunday to The Associated Press, Cain's campaign disputed the allegations.
Neither woman was identified.
The report was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what the publication said was a review of documentation that described the allegations and the resolution.
Cain's campaign told AP that the allegations were not true, and amounted to unfair attacks.
"Inside-the-Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain," spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a written statement. "Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain's tenure as the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts."
Asked if Cain's campaign was denying the report, Gordon said, "Yes."
"These are baseless allegations," Gordon said in a second interview later Sunday evening. "To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story."
But Politico said that Gordon told their publication that Cain himself had indicated to campaign officials that he was "vaguely familiar" with the charges and that the restaurant association's general counsel had resolved the matter.
At or near top of polls
Politico also said it confronted Cain early Sunday outside of the CBS News Washington bureau, where he had just been interviewed on Face the Nation.
"I am not going to comment on that," he told Politico when asked specifically about one of the women's claims.
When asked if he had ever been accused of harassment by a woman, he responded, Politico said, by asking the reporter, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?"
During his presidential run, Cain, a former pizza company executive, has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he has the credentials needed to be president during a time of economic strife.
A message seeking comment from Peter Kilgore, listed on the National Restaurant Association website as its chief legal counsel, was not immediately returned.