Washington: Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore flatly denied allegations he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl almost four decades ago and denied ever knowing his accuser, calling the story a politically motivated attack a month before the election.
“I don’t know Ms. Corfman from anybody," he said Friday on Sean Hannity’s radio show, referring to Leigh Corfman, the woman who told the Washington Post about her encounter with Moore in 1979. “I’ve never talked to her. Never had any contact with her. Allegations of sexual misconduct with her are completely false. I believe they’re politically motivated. I believe they’re brought only to stop a very successful campaign, and that’s what they’re doing."
Moore acknowledged knowing two of the women who told the Post that the Alabama Republican pursued them for dates when they were 17 and 18. Although he said he didn’t recall the dates, Moore denied anything inappropriate happened.
“If I did, I’m not going to dispute anything" about having dated them, he told Hannity. “We never had any sexual activity."
Moore has defied calls from some congressional Republicans to drop out of the race, in which he faces Democrat Doug Jones in a 12 December special election. The allegations shake up an already tumultuous campaign, where Moore was the favourite to win in the solidly Republican state. Moore, who was twice removed as chief justice of the state Supreme Court for defying federal court rulings, is on the ballot after defeating a primary opponent supported by US President Donald Trump, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the party establishment.
Moore was backed by Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News and Trump’s former chief strategist, who said on Friday he’s standing behind the candidate. He said he believes the Post story was a hit piece planted by Moore’s enemies, though he offered no backing for the claim.
“This is deeper than politics—it’s about trying to destroy a man’s life," Bannon said in a telephone interview. “I’ve seen this before with Trump."
Breitbart published Moore’s pre-emptive denial of the Post report just minutes before it was published on Thursday.
A poll conducted after the allegations surfaced, by Opinion Savvy, an Atlanta-based organization sponsored by Decision Desk HQ, showed the race tied with Moore and Jones both at 46%. In late September, the same polling group had Moore up by 5.7 percentage points. Of the 515 people surveyed Thursday, 82.2% said they were aware of the allegations.
Trump joined a growing list of top Republicans saying Moore should withdraw from the race if the report is substantiated that he pursued the 14-year-old and three other teenagers when he was in his 30s and a deputy district attorney. During his presidential campaign, Trump denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by several women.
“Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday as Trump travelled to a summit in Vietnam. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
Paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday showed that the Moore campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have cut ties, while the Republican National Committee is still listed on the Moore campaign’s form.
Tide of allegations
The allegations against Moore come at a time when prominent men in the entertainment industry, business and politics have been accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct. The wave of accusations was led by reports from The New York Times and The New Yorker detailing accusations of sexual harassment and assault against film executive Harvey Weinstein.
They also present a dilemma for Republicans trying to keep their majorities in the House and Senate in next year’s congressional elections. Moore’s presence in the Senate would be sure to become a rallying point for Democrats, who drew heavily on support from women to make surprising gains in off-year balloting in Virginia, New Jersey and several other states on Tuesday.
Moore has little incentive to heed Republican Party leaders’ calls to step aside after they shunned him in the primary and didn’t embrace him after he won. In Alabama, some of Moore’s fellow Republicans were rallying around him. One, state representative Ed Henry, said the accusers were prodded by the Democratic Party and may have been paid to make their statements. He even suggested they should be prosecuted, according to a local newspaper, the Cullman Times.
“If they believe this man is predatory, they are guilty of allowing him to exist for 40 years. I think someone should prosecute and go after them. You can’t be a victim 40 years later, in my opinion," Henry said in an interview, according to the newspaper.
Most of the Republican lawmakers who said Moore should step aside attached the qualifier “if true" to their statements. None defined what standard of proof they would apply in the case.
“I believe if there’s any truth to these allegations at all, he needs to step out of this race," Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on Friday during a Bloomberg TV interview.
In an interview afterwards, Toomey said he hasn’t seen any evidence that would undermine the credibility of the woman who made the allegation in the Post report.
“If there were evidence that suggested that she was being untruthful, then it would raise very serious questions about all the allegations, but in the absence, it does sound credible," Toomey said. “It’s been consistent, it’s been corroborated, so that’s the way it looks at the moment."
The Post story had four women by name recounting how Moore, now 70, pursued them when they were in their teens. None of them said Moore forced himself on them. Their stories, according to the Post, were supported by others who knew them at the time.
Three of the women were ages 16, 17 and 18 when Moore asked them out on dates. The 14-year-old, identified by the Post as Leigh Corfman, said Moore initially approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Alabama, when he was an assistant district attorney. He began a conversation and offered to watch the girl while her mother went into the courtroom for a child custody hearing, the Post said.
Corfman told the Post that Moore spent time alone with her. He drove her to his house and kissed her, she told the newspaper. On a second visit, he took off his outer clothes, as well as her shirt and pants, she told the Post. Moore touched her through her bra and underpants and “guided her hand to touch him over his underwear," according to the Post.
Alabama law doesn’t allow the removal of a name from a ballot so close to the election. But if Moore were to withdraw—and there was no immediate indication he would—state law says votes cast for him wouldn’t be certified.
Moore is known outside Alabama mostly for being removed twice as chief justice of the state Supreme Court—in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building, and in 2016 for telling state judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
He also has a history of controversial statements, including writing that Muslims like representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, shouldn’t serve in Congress and that transgender people don’t have rights. Bloomberg