‘He totally denies it’: Trump backs senate candidate Roy Moore, engulfed in underage sex claims
US President Donald Trump finally weighed in on the sexual misconduct allegations that have engulfed the Senate candidate Roy Moore, offering comments that were an endorsement in all but name.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Trump spoke about the Alabama Republican, who has been accused of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls while he was in his 30s, including allegations of assault and fondling a 14-year-old when Moore was in his 30s. Moore has denied the allegations.
Asked if he was ready to talk about Moore, Trump said: “Yeah, I’ll be talking about him. I can tell you one thing for sure: we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat – [Doug] Jones.”
Trump went on: “[Moore] denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. You’re talking about … he said 40 years ago this did not happen.
He also described Moore’s opponent Doug Jones as “terrible on crime”. Trump said: “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military.”
Trump also left open the possibility of campaigning with Moore, saying: “I’ll be letting you know next week.”
Trump’s comments represent a significant shift from past statements from the White House, where press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that the election was a decision for Alabama voters and that Moore should “step aside” if the allegations were true.
She had also said that Trump supported the decision by the Republican National Committee to cut off all support for Moore’s campaign.
Many national Republicans have denounced Moore. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said of his accusers: “I believe the women.” Of the US senators who had previously endorsed Moore, all but one have now withdrawn their support.
Trump also spoke on growing reports of sexual harassment and misconduct in all sectors of society. Asked what his message was to women at this pivotal moment, the president said: “Women are very special. I think it’s a very special time because a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society, and I think it’s very, very good for women. And I’m very happy a lot of these things are coming out, and I’m very happy it’s being exposed.”
During the 2016 campaign, Trump was accused of sexual harassment by 16 different women. However, he has denied all the allegations and the White House has insisted all of his accusers were lying. Trump has also yet to follow through on his campaign pledge to sue all of his accusers for defamation.
Trump’s comments on Tuesday come as the Moore campaign stepped up its campaign against the allegations. They have repeatedly described the allegations as part of a campaign by the “fake news” and the “Republican establishment” to defeat Moore.
Moore has long derided McConnell and has called him on to step down as the top Republican in the US Senate. McConnell actively supported Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary, appointed incumbent Luther Strange. Republican insiders saw Strange as a more reliable vote than Moore, who has twice been removed from his post as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court for defying federal courts, and has said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal.
Dean Young, a top adviser to Moore, explicitly said on Tuesday that the campaign would not answer any more questions about the allegations, and dismissed them as “Jerry Springer stuff”.
Although Moore originally equivocated about whether he ever dated teenage girls, telling Sean Hannity in an interview, “Not generally, no,” he has since issued a blanket denial by saying, “I have never dated or engaged in any inappropriate conduct with an underage girl” in response to a written question.
Moore has paid a significant price in the polls in the deep red state since the Washington Post first reported the allegations earlier in November.
The election on December 12 to fill the seat previously held by attorney general Jeff Sessions should have been a comfortable Republican hold, but has become competitive. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, adding to the significance of the contest, where Moore has fallen behind Jones in the polls. A Fox News poll recently gave the Democrat an eight-point lead.
An hour after Trump spoke to reporters, the Moore campaign touted his comments in a press release: “President Trump blasts liberal Democrat Doug Jones.”