WASHINGTON — Payments to women who complained of sexual harassment. Accusations of groping. Allegations of a 13-year extramarital affair.
As President Trump moves ahead with his plan to nominate Herman Cain, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, for a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, Republican lawmakers are being forced to confront a fresh round of uncomfortable allegations of sexual misconduct against women as the 2020 campaign begins.
A day after Mr. Trump made the choice of Mr. Cain official, Senate Republicans expressed quiet anxiety over the prospect of another #MeToo minefield even as the White House exalted the decision.
“President Trump’s statement that Herman Cain is ‘a truly outstanding individual’ is a message that the president of the United States is willing to ignore the allegations of a number of women who alleged that Herman Cain either sexually harassed them or had an affair with them,” said Gloria Allred, a lawyer who represented two of Mr. Cain’s accusers. “This message is an insult to women and should be condemned by the Republican Party and all those who care about respect and dignity for women.”
The choice of Mr. Cain comes as Mr. Trump’s other pick to fill an open seat on the seven-member Fed board, the conservative economist Stephen Moore, has been under fire for ethical and financial lapses that emerged from his divorce records. In both cases, the White House has publicly backed Mr. Trump’s selections despite criticism that he was installing loyalists with questionable credentials in two of the country’s top economic policy jobs.
“I don’t buy it; we’re not trying to damage the Fed’s independence,” Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on the Fox Business Network on Friday when asked about Mr. Cain.
But the questions surrounding Mr. Cain, who made his loyalty to the president clear with his creation of a political action committee to combat misinformation about Mr. Trump, go beyond cronyism.
The sexual misconduct accusations against him first emerged in 2011, when his long-shot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination was gaining traction and he was briefly propelled to the top of the polls. He denied the claims, denouncing them as a political hit job that were being circulated by opponents to sink his candidacy.
Most of the accusations dated from the 1990s and involved employees or former employees of the National Restaurant Association, a Washington trade and lobbying organization. Mr. Cain had served on the association’s board when he was the president and chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, a chain of restaurants with headquarters in Omaha, and after resigning from Godfather’s, he moved to Washington to become the association’s president.
His behavior toward female subordinates raised concern within the organization, according to former employees, board members and consultants. In interviews, they recalled learning that Mr. Cain had introduced sexual innuendo or questions into conversations with subordinates at the association’s offices and events, as well as outside work. At one association conference, they said, he invited a female employee to his hotel room.
The association paid settlements to two female employees after they accused Mr. Cain of sexual harassment. The settlements included confidentiality provisions barring the women from discussing their complaints publicly.
Another former employee, Sharon Bialek, accused Mr. Cain of groping and propositioning her in 1997, when she asked for his help in finding employment after she was fired from the association’s education foundation. When she protested, he responded, “You want a job, right?” she said at a news conference in 2011.
A few weeks after Ms. Bialek detailed her account, another woman, Ginger White, alleged that she had a 13-year extramarital affair with Mr. Cain that ended shortly before he announced his presidential bid.
Mr. Cain categorically denied the affair, Ms. Bialek’s account, the hotel solicitation and the harassment claims, dismissing them as a campaign of “character assassination” devised to force him to drop out of the race.
He pledged to push through, but his poll numbers plunged, and he suspended his campaign days later.
Two years later, after having left the political arena for a career in talk radio, he published a detailed defense on his website, again dismissing the claims, which he called a “dark cloud attached to my reputation that is not consistent with the truth.”
Joel P. Bennett, a lawyer who represented one of the women who was paid a settlement by the restaurant association, Karen Kraushaar, said times had changed since his former client leveled the accusation — and even since her settlement was made public in 2011 — but only to a point.
“People are even more sensitive about this, and listening, and being sure that women are heard,” Mr. Bennett said. “But on the other hand, there were very serious allegations against Donald Trump and he was elected president. There were very serious allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, and he was confirmed,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court justice.
He called for the Senate to conduct a “very thorough investigation” of the claims against Mr. Cain as part of any prospective confirmation hearing.
“The allegations are very serious,” Mr. Bennett said. “If you have one complaint, it’s a ‘he said, she said’ situation. If you have three or four complaints — the expression is where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Mr. Bennett said he was unsure if Ms. Kraushaar would participate in any congressional investigation, explaining that she had recently retired from a career in the federal government and was considering moving away from the Washington area.
It is an uncomfortably familiar spot for Senate Republicans, who were confronted with a similar dilemma six months ago after Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Mr. Kavanaugh, who was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual misconduct, was eventually confirmed after an excruciating public hearing in which Dr. Blasey testified that he pinned her down and groped her at a party when she was in high school in the 1980s. Mr. Kavanaugh disputed the claims and denied he ever assaulted her.
The choice of Mr. Cain was viewed as especially perplexing in the immediate aftermath of the selection of Mr. Moore, who is dealing with his own accusations of ethical lapses related to his 2011 divorce. Since Mr. Moore was chosen, it has emerged that he owes $75,000 in federal taxes, interest and penalties stemming from his attempt to deduct child support payments, which are not eligible for a tax break. He was held in contempt of court in 2013 for failing to pay more than $330,000 for spousal support, child support and lawyer’s fees to his former wife, Allison Moore.
While Mr. Cain was defiant amid the downfall of his 2012 presidential bid, the toll that a process can take on a nominee and his family was on display on Friday, as Ms. Moore appeared alone in a Virginia court and tearfully pleaded with a judge to keep her divorce records sealed.
“This is causing emotional turmoil within my family,” Ms. Moore said. “I never intended to be made a circus of in front of everybody.”
The judge declined her request, which had been challenged by multiple news organizations, including The New York Times, and unsealed the nearly 200-page record of the divorce, which detailed the terms of the couple’s settlement and the breakdown of their marriage, which began with Mr. Moore’s affair.
According to the unsealed filing, Mr. Moore opened two Match.com accounts in 2009 with the intention of meeting other women. In 2010, Mr. Moore started a sexual relationship with a woman he met online. According to the court records, Ms. Moore found bills that showed him pumping gas in the morning near the woman’s home and buying an airplane ticket in her name.
Two years after the divorce was finalized, Mr. Moore still owed his former wife more than $200,000 from their original settlement, plus tens of thousands of dollars in child and spousal support payments he was supposed to be making monthly. When Mr. Moore continued to defy a judge’s order to pay the money, the judge appointed a lawyer to sell his house and distribute the proceeds in a way that fulfilled his obligations in the divorce, the court filings show.
On May 17, 2013, the lawyer appeared at Mr. Moore’s Virginia home along with four police officers, two real estate agents and a locksmith. The locksmith picked the lock so that the police and the agents could get into the house and prepare it for sale. When Mr. Moore was informed by the lawyer that his house was being sold, he became “argumentative” and said he had already paid his debt to Ms. Moore. Five days later, Mr. Moore paid $150,000 of the debt he owed and said he would get a home-equity loan to cover the rest.
It is unclear whether Mr. Cain or Mr. Moore, who are currently undergoing background checks, could be confirmed if they are formally nominated.
But people close to the administration said Mr. Trump was eager for a big fight on Capitol Hill, akin to the brawl over the Kavanaugh nomination, that will unite his base and distract from the spate of investigations being undertaken by House Democrats.
Mr. Trump and some of his staff members believe that stirring drama in the Senate during an election will help foster the impression that Senate Republicans are taking action at a time when Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, plans to do little more than push through judicial nominations, a person close the administration said.
When asked about Mr. Cain on Thursday, many Republican senators ducked into elevators or onto the trains that run from the Capitol to legislative office buildings, answered calls on their cellphones, or gave noncommittal responses that made it clear the issue was not a top priority.
“I really don’t have an opinion on that,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania.
“This would be instead of Stephen Moore?” Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said shortly after word of Mr. Cain’s possible appointment was made public. He was told no. “I don’t know anything about his past service, so I don’t know what to say,” Mr. Blunt said.
It remains unclear if Mr. Cain will pass a background check or if Senate Republicans would actually confirm him, despite his credentials as a Republican businessman who was once the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City.
For Mr. Cain, a circuslike atmosphere has not been something to shy away from. He parlayed his boomlet in presidential politics into the “Cain’s Solutions Revolution” bus tour in 2012 and started hosting a radio show in 2013. He wrote columns for Newsmax and appeared as a commentator on Fox News.
During the 2016 election, Mr. Trump, who was also a bombastic businessman and outsider, drew early comparisons to Mr. Cain. In an early sign of loyalty at a time when many Republicans were skittish about Mr. Trump, Mr. Cain rebutted accusations that Mr. Trump was racist and even attacked Jeb Bush in 2015 on Mr. Trump’s behalf.
“It’s a different year, and Donald Trump is a different guy,” Mr. Cain said.
Emily Flitter contributed reporting from New York, and Glenn Thrush from Washington.
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