- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2017

Accusations that Republican candidate Roy Moore years ago was a sexual predator targeting teenage girls is “deeply troubling” to President Trump, the White House said Thursday, but his chief spokesman stopped short of demanding Mr. Moore quit Alabama’s U.S. Senate race.

Mr. Trump has mostly steered clear of the political bonfire engulfing Mr. Moore, who has been condemned by many Senate Republicans and threatened with expulsion or investigation if he manages to win the Dec. 12 special election.

“It is also a decision that the people of Alabama need to make, not the president, about whether or not they want Roy Moore,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

For his part, Mr. Moore said he wouldn’t drop his Senate bid until “they put me in the ground.”

And the Alabama GOP said Thursday that it was sticking with the candidate, bucking the GOP in Washington, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have demanded Mr. Moore drop out.

At least seven women have come forward to accuse Mr. Moore of pursuing them or making inappropriate sexual contact. Most of the women were teens, although of legal age in Alabama, when the incidents occurred in the 1970s.

However, one of the women, Leigh Corfman, was 14 in 1977 when, she said, the 32-year-old Mr. Moore asked her out on a date, took her to his house and attempted to initiate sex.

Mr. Moore has denied all the accusations. He also has accused the news media and establishment Republicans of trying to knock him out of a race that he had been widely expected to win.

The scandal vexed the GOP on numerous fronts. It complicated the party’s weak outreach to female voters, threatened the loss of an usually safe seat in deeply conservative Alabama and potentially endangered the tax reform bill by reducing the Senate majority to a single vote.

The White House gave Mr. Moore a little breathing room.

Under a barrage of questions from the reporters, Mrs. Sanders repeatedly used the qualifier “if true” in addressing the accusations.

“The president has been clear that if any of these allegations are true — allegations that he finds very troubling and takes very seriously — then he should do the right thing and step aside,” she said at the daily White House briefing.

While traveling in Asia, Mr. Trump earlier this week put out a statement that also condemned the alleged behavior “if true.”

Mrs. Sanders said that she did not know how the accusations could be proven other than in a court of law. She insisted that Mr. Trump wasn’t ducking the issue, noting that the president supported the Republican National Committee’s decision to withdraw financing from the Moore campaign.

Mr. Moore, a strongly pro-Trump Republican, was opposed by Mr. McConnell and the GOP establishment in the primary. Mr. Trump also backed the establishment pick, Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed by the governor to fill temporarily the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions took the job of U.S. attorney general.

The women’s accusations were first reported by The Washington Post. Other women then made charges to the news site AL.com.

In Birmingham Mr. Moore remained defiant. He said that Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, was trying to “steal this election from the people of Alabama, and they will not stand for it.”

“I want to tell you who needs to step down — that’s Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Moore said, sparking applause from his supporters. “There have been comments about me taking a stand — yes, I have taken a stand in the past, I will take a stand in the future, and I will quit standing when they lay me in that box and they put me in the ground.”

The Alabama Republican Party announced its continued support of Mr. Moore after a 21-member steering committee met to review the sexual misconduct accusations.

During the 2016 presidential race, Mr. Trump overcame claims he had made unwanted sexual advances on women.

Mrs. Sanders was asked if that experience had informed the president’s stance toward Mr. Moore.

“I think the president certainly has a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do, and he spoke out about that directly during the campaign,” she said.

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