President Trump spoke for the first time to reporters about the accusations of sexual misconduct against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, emphasizing that electing "liberal" Democratic opponent Doug Jones would be bad for the nation and that Moore has totally denied the allegations.
The president was asked if he will campaign for Moore ahead of the Dec. 12 special election to fill the Alabama seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Advertisement - story continues below
"I'll be letting you know next week," the president said as he prepared to board Marine One on his way to Air Force One and a trip to his home in South Florida for the Thanksgiving break.
"I can tell you one thing for sure," Trump said. "We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on the military."
Trump was asked if a candidate accused of improper sexual contact with a child was better than a Democrat.
"Well, [Moore] denies it," Trump said.
Advertisement - story continues below
"If you look at what is really going on and all of the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and, you know, you have to listen to him also," the president said.
"You're talking about – he said 40 years ago this did not happen."
Trump was asked twice whether or not he had a message for women amid an avalanche of recent accusations of sexual misconduct against prominent figures in politics, entertainment and media.
"Women are very special," he said. "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. I'm very happy it's being exposed."
Trump also was asked whether or not Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, should resign in the wake of sexual misconduct and what he thought about the disclosure that Sen. John Conyers, D-Mich., secretly settled a sexual-harassment lawsuit.
Advertisement - story continues below
"Look, I don't want to speak for Al Franken. I don't know what happened," Trump said. "I just heard about Conyers two minutes ago. As far as Franken's concerned, he's going to have to speak for himself."
The president's response to reporters came on the heels of a news conference in Alabama in which three of Moore's representatives spoke on his behalf, presenting what they described as new evidence that undermines the claims of the most serious accusations, by Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson.
On Monday, Corfman conducted her first television interview since the Washington Post reported her claim that Moore, when he was 32 and she was 14, took her to his home and engaged in sexual touching. She told NBC's "Today" show she "didn't deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon" her.
Advertisement - story continues below
Corfman was one of four accusers featured in the Nov. 9 Post story. She told the paper that in 1979, after taking her to his house, Moore took off her "shirt and pants and removed his clothes," touched her "over her bra and underpants" and "guided her hand to touch him over his underwear." Since the Post story, five other women have alleged misconduct by Moore when they were teens and he was in his 30s, including Nelson, who alleges Moore sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she 16 and working as a waitress in a restaurant in Moore's hometown of Gadsden.
In an interview in July, Moore said he first noticed his wife, Kayla, who is 14 years his junior, when she was about 15 years old and performing in a dance recital. In his memoir, "So Help Me God," he wrote: "It was something I had never forgotten." He recounts that he met her at a Christmas party when she was 23, and they married a year later.
A Moore supporter, pastor Flip Benham, a prominent national pro-life leader, told a local Alabama radio show on Monday he saw nothing wrong with Moore dating teenage girls.
"Judge Roy Moore graduated from West Point and then went on into the service, served in Vietnam and then came back and was in law school," he argued. "All of the ladies, or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not available then, they were already married, maybe, somewhere."
Benham said there is "something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that's true, that's straight and he looked for that."
However, in a radio interview with Sean Hannity Nov. 10, Moore said he didn't recall dating any girl in her late teens when he was in his early 30s and agreed with Hannity it would have been "inappropriate."
Roy Moore accuser Leigh Corfman speaks to the "Today" show:
On Sunday, Alabama's biggest newspapers ran a front-page editorial urging voters to reject Moore. The Alabama Republican Party, meanwhile, continues to support the former judge.
'The whole world is watching'
Just prior to Trump's remarks Tuesday, members of Moore's campaign leadership defended the Republican candidate, arguing, in a direct appeal to Alabama voters, that with a narrow GOP Senate majority, much is at stake for the nation and "the whole world is watching" what they will do Dec. 12.
A lawyer for Moore, Ben DuPré, said Moore is "above reproach" and, "We don't believe a word of these lies against him."
DuPré said the worldview of establishment media is at odds with the worldview and values of Alabamians, charging media have been quick to judge Moore but reluctant to judge Democrats who have faced similar allegations, such as former President Bill Clinton and former Congressman Anthony Weiner.
DuPré then presented new evidence he said the media have been unwilling to publish.
"The lies and character assassination of Judge Moore ends today," he said.
He said Moore's team continues to maintain the judge never knew Corfman.
Noting Corfman alleges she was with her mother at a court hearing in 1979, DuPré pointed out that the Etowah County document signed by Corfman's parents asked for custody to be changed from the mother to the father.
While Corfman claims her life spiraled out of control after the alleged contact with Moore, DuPré said the parents indicated in a joint petition to modify custody that they were already concerned about behavioral problems by the child. The father was better equipped to deal with the already existing disciplinary problems, according to the petition, he said.
Further, Corfman claims she had telephone conversations with Moore using a phone in her bedroom at her mother's home. But Breitbart reported, DuPré noted, that the mother said there was no phone in her bedroom.
The lawyer also disputed the claim that Moore picked up Corfman around the corner from her mother's house. The supposed pickup place, he said, was actually about a mile away and across a major thoroughfare.
DuPré noted Corfman's father lived in another town.
Twelve days after the custody hearing, Breitbart News reported, citing court documents, Corfman was required to move to her father's house in Ohatchee, Alabama.
DuPré contends that fact raises doubt about Corfman's claim that Moore repeatedly called her at her mother’s Gadsden house, arranged two meetings and attempted another, arguing its unlikely that all of that occurred within 12 days.
"We urge the press to do its job," he concluded.
Stan Cooke, a campaign spokesman, argued that Moore has run five campaigns in 35 years, and "never has his character been questioned."
"Why now?" he asked.
He asserted that the yearbook inscription, which Nelson's attorney, Gloria Allred, put forth as evidence, was "faked."
The campaign, he pointed out, has called on Allred to release the yearbook for independent inspection, but she has refused.
Cooke cited Allred's interview with MSNBC in which she said that even if the yearbook has been altered, it would not affect the "integrity" of the allegations.
"Allegation are words, not facts," Cooke said. "That's ridiculous, the yearbook was her star witness, and her witness failed."
Cooke also cited a stepson of Nelson and a former boyfriend who both believe Moore.
He pointed to an interview with a former waitress at the restaurant where Nelson alleges the attack took place who disputed Nelson's contention that she was 15 and working as a waitress when Moore began flirting with her.
Rhonda Ledbetter, a retired school teacher who was interviewed by WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Alabama, at the request of the Moore campaign, said waitresses had to be at least 16, and she contended Nelson had other facts wrong. The restaurant closed later than 10 p.m., she said, and the restaurant was well-lit around its perimeter and exposed to the road and a neighborhood behind it, meaning there was no isolated place for the alleged attack to take place.
WHNT said it couldn't confirm Ledbetter's employment at the restaurant outside of her sister and a friend. Ledbetter there aren't tax records or paycheck stubs, claiming the owner paid employees in cash.
Cooke also cited a former operations manager at the Gadsden Mall who was in a position to know whether or not Moore had been banned from the mall as some have claimed. Johnny Adams said he never heard anything about Moore being banned.
"This is an effort by these people, the liberal media, the Republican establishment, to malign the good name of Judge Moore," Cooke said.
"You men and women of the media are responsible for the stories and printing the truth," he said.
"I am urging you to print and tell the truth."
Dean Young, a campaign strategist for Moore, said he has been with Moore for 25 years.
He said that by Dec. 12, "all of this stuff will be settled, and Judge Moore will be the next senator from Alabama."
Speaking directly to the people of Alabama, he said "the Judge Moore you knew two weeks ago, is the same Judge Moore" you have known for four decades.
Young pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spent more than $30 million to defeat Moore.
"What are Alabamians going to do?" he asked. "If you can be tricked, Alabamians, with the $30 million from Mitch McConnell – maybe it's $45 million by now – and the Washington Post fake stories, if you can be tricked in two weeks about Judge Moore, then they win.
"The world is watching you," he said.
Young cited the biblical story of Queen Esther and the famous admonition given to her that "for such a time as this" she had been set apart to save Israel.
"It's not just Judge Moore 'for such a time as this,' it's you," he said to Alabama voters.
"The question is, can you be tricked?" he said. "Because all hell is coming to Alabama against Judge Moore."
Young said opponents are willing to make up "any lie" and "drag up in front of a TV camera" any person to accomplish their objective of defeating Moore.
He urged Alabamians at Thanksgiving time and after church on Sunday to talk about the election and decide if they are going to trust "the Judge Moore that we've known for 25 years" or "be sold a bill of goods by Mitch McConnell."
'I didn’t go looking for this'
Moore has repeatedly denied all of the allegations, declaring he is "not guilty of sexual misconduct with anyone" and is the victim of a politically motivated attack.
Corfman told the "Today" show Monday she told others of the alleged incident after it occurred but didn't make her accusation public sooner because she wanted to protect her children from the fallout.
She said that when the Post contacted her, she agreed to tell her story if the paper found additional accusers.
"I didn’t go looking for this; it fell in my lap," she said.
Corfman said she's voted Republican for many years and insisted "this isn’t political for me."
On Sunday, the joint editorial board of the Alabama Media Group – which publishes the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Press-Register and AL.com – called the accusations against Moore "horrifying, but not shocking," reported Business Insider, and endorsed the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones.
"How can we look our neighbors, our parishioners, our colleagues, our partners, or our children in the eyes and tell them they are worth less than ensuring one political party keeps a Senate seat?" the board wrote. "How can we expect young Alabamians to have faith in their government or their church, when its leaders equivocate on matters as clear cut as sexual abuse?"
While national Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, have called on Moore to step aside, the Alabama Republican Party last week decided to support him, concluding "Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election – not the media or those from afar."
Also, the 5th District Congressional District GOP Executive Committee of Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., last week voted unanimously to back Moore.
Before the Post story, Moore had a double-digit lead over Jones, according to polls, but the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls now has the race neck and neck.
In Corfman's interview Monday with "Today," host Savannah Guthrie, noting the suggestions of some defenders of Moore, asked her if she was paid. Corfman said no, adding "if anything, this has cost me" financially, because she has taken leave from her job since the Post reported her accusations.
Corfman said she felt guilty after the alleged incident.
"I felt like I was the one to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go," she said.
Kayla Moore: 'We're in a battle'
Last week, Moore's wife, Kayla Moore, spoke out in defense of her husband, confirming he will not drop out of the race despite a growing number of Republicans urging him to step aside.
"After all the attacks against me, against my family and against my husband, he will not step down," Kayla Moore said. "We're in a battle. Thank you for your prayers."
Last Thursday, Moore was joined by supporters, including his pastor and other Christian leaders, at a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, in which he once again strongly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct against him, calling them "scurrilous."
Moore also accused McConnell of trying to "steal this election from the people of Alabama."
The day before, ABC News reported an Alabama woman, Becky Gray, accused Moore of sexually harassing her in the late 1970s and said he was banned from the mall where she worked after she complained of his repeated, unwanted advances. Also Wednesday, AL.com reported a Gadsden, Alabama, woman, Tina Johnson, claimed Moore groped her while she was in his law office on legal business with her mother in 1991.
On Monday, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, seemed to soften her position on Moore, warning Republicans that his Democratic opponent could harm the Republican tax-reform plan, the Washington Times reported.
"Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners," she told Fox News.
The Times said that when Conway was asked whether or not Alabama voters should choose Moore, she continued to cite Jones' politics and mentioned the allegations of sexual misconduct that arose last week against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Last Thursday, however, when discussing the allegations against Moore in a Fox News interview, Conway said: "There is no Senate seat worth more than a child."
The last time Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama was 1992. The winner will serve the remaining two years of Sessions' term.
Jones, who has never run for office, opposes "tax cuts for the rich" and favors an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare and abortion rights.
'These women have no reason to lie'
Last Wednesday, ABC News reported an Alabama woman, Becky Gray, accused Moore of sexually harassing her in the late 1970s, and AL.com reported a Gadsden, Alabama, woman, Tina Johnson, claimed Moore groped her while she was in his law office on legal business with her mother in 1991.
Gray told ABC she has grown increasingly frustrated with critics who continue to question the veracity of the claims of other women.
"These women have no reason to lie about their sexual encounters ... so I just don't understand people that don't believe that it's true. There's a lot of shame to this, and for those women who did have sexual encounters with Moore, I commend them for coming out – I really do. It's about time."
AL.com on Wednesday also featured an interview with Kelly Harrison Thorp, who said she was 17 and working as a hostess at the Red Lobster restaurant in Gadsden in 1982 when Moore, in his early 30s at the time, came into the restaurant and asked her to out out on a date with him sometime.
Thorp told AL.com that when she asked Moore if he knew how old she was, he replied: "Yeah. I go out with girls your age all the time."
Thorp said she knows Corfman and believes she is telling the truth.
In a radio interview Nov. 10 with Sean Hannity, Moore, adamantly denied the allegation by Corfman. But Moore left open the possibility that he dated the older teens who had come forward, saying he didn't remember, before unequivocally stating he did not date any teens when he was in his 30s when Hannity asked for clarification. Moore also agreed with Hannity that it would have been "inappropriate."
On Nov. 14, Hannity delivered an ultimatum to Moore, saying the former judge needed to explain the discrepancy in the Friday interview and the evidence Allred and Nelson presented at their news conference Monday, a Gadsden High School yearbook that Nelson says Moore signed just days before the alleged attack.
Moore's attorney, Phillip L. Jauregui, at a news conference Nov. 15, asked Allred to turn over a high school yearbook she had presented as evidence that includes an alleged inscription by Moore. Jauregui wants it to be inspected by a handwriting expert, because his team believes the inscription is a forgery. Taking no questions, Jauregui also claimed Nelson falsely asserted she had had no contact with Moore since the alleged 1977 incident, pointing out Moore presided over her divorce case in 1999. However, court documents show another judge also was involved in the case, and there was no hearing, meaning there is no evidence that Nelson was in a courtroom with Moore.
Breitbart News reported an attorney for Moore delivered a letter to Allred on Nov. 16 giving her 48 hours to release the yearbook to the custody of an independent examiner. The letter also demanded that Allred and Nelson issue a "full and fair public retraction" of all "false statements" concerning Moore.
Charges that the yearbook inscription is a forgery have circulated on social media. Heavy.com reported a photo shared initially on Twitter by CNN appears to show that part of the inscription was written in blue ink and another in black ink. However, other photos of the yearbook show only black ink. And some have pointed out that the accuser's red nail polish also looks like a different shade in the CNN photo than it does in other photos.
CNN's tweet appears to show two different colors of ink:
Beverly Young Nelson said Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore wrote a message in her yearbook in December 1977 that said, "To a sweeter more beautiful girl, I could not say, 'Merry Christmas.'"
— CNN (@CNN) November 13, 2017
Handwriting analysts who have been asked to assess the photos of the inscription have told media outlets it's impossible to determine whether or not it's a forgery without examining the actual yearbook along with numerous handwriting samples from Moore dating back to the 1970s.
In his reply to Hannity, Moore wrote: "My signature on the order of dismissal in the divorce case was annotated with the letters 'D.A.,' representing the initials of my court assistant. Curiously the supposed yearbook inscription is also followed by the same initials – 'D.A.' But at that time I was Deputy District Attorney, not district attorney."
Moore said he believed the "initials as well as the date under the signature block and the printed name of the restaurant are written in a style inconsistent with the rest of the yearbook inscription."
On his Fox News Channel program Nov. 15, Hannity responded to Moore's letter.
The host said allegations against Moore "are beyond disturbing and serious," but he said more time is needed to make a conclusion and, ultimately, the people of Alabama will decide.
"I am very confident that when everything comes out, they will make the best decision for their state," Hannity said.
Republicans exploring options
The Republican leadership is said to be exploring an alternative to Moore in the Alabama Senate race.
McConnell and his top advisers are discussing the legal feasibility of asking Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year when Sessions became attorney general, to resign to trigger a new special election, Politico reported last week.
However, McConnell aides expressed caution, saying they're uncertain the move is possible, and they are discussing several options.
A survey conducted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee after the allegations against Moore emerged showed him trailing Jones by 12 points, although other recent polling has the race closer.
Politico said McConnell’s team had proposed asking Sessions, who held the Alabama seat for two decades prior to becoming attorney general, to run as a write-in candidate.
But the committee's polling found that a write-in candidacy likely would split the Republican vote and ensure a Jones victory.
Republicans currently have a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate.
The top Senate Republican campaign official, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said Nov. 13 that the Senate should move to expel Moore it he were to win the election.
"I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office," said Gardner. "If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate."
Republican analysts view the Moore candidacy as a proxy battle between the party establishment, represented by McConnell, and former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon. Bannon has supported Moore as part of a broader effort to challenge incumbent Republicans with candidates who he believes will carry out President Trump's agenda.
Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are among the Republican lawmakers who have withdrawn their support of Moore.
Cruz said Nov. 13: "As it stands, I can't urge the people of Alabama to support a campaign in the face of these charges without serious, persuasive demonstration that the charges are not true.
"Both last week and this week, there are serious charges of criminal conduct that, if true, not only make him unfit to serve in the Senate but merit criminal prosecution," Cruz told reporters, according to the Texas Tribune.
On Nov. 10, Lee wrote in a tweet: "Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has backed out of a joint fundraising effort with Moore because of the allegations.
However, after being largely silent on the allegations against Moore, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said Nov. 16 the state party supports him and trusts voters to make the "ultimate decision" in the Dec. 12 U.S. Senate election, AL.com reported
The 21-member the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee met Nov. 15 to discuss the allegations.
"Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election – not the media or those from afar," Lathan said in a statement.
The evening of Nov. 16, the 5th District Congressional District GOP Executive Committee of Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., voted unanimously to back Moore.
Leaders of a number of Christian organizations joined Moore at the press conference Thursday in Birmingham and presented a letter declaring their support.
"We stand with Judge Roy Moore, a man of integrity who has never wavered from his valiant defense of the unborn, the Ten Commandments, and the Constitution. We are confident the voters of Alabama will not be fooled by suspiciously timed accusations without evidence and will reject the politics of personal destruction led by the Washington Post," the letter stated.
Moore's pastor, Stephen Broden, said he has no reason to doubt him.
"Friends, I know the man and he is a man of character," he said.
Former U.N. ambassador Alan Keyes of Renew America said he backs Moore because "we are creatures of god" and have a "duty to do what is right."
Janet Porter, president of Faith2Action, said she is a close friend of the Moore family and calls the accusations an "assassination led by the media"
"Why does the enemies of faith and liberty hate this man so much?" she asked.
When Nelson made her claims one week ago at a news conference with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, Moore's campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, charged Allred was leading a "a sensationalist leading a witch hunt" against "a man who has had an impeccable career for over 30 years and has always been known as a man of high character."
"Let it be understood: the truth will come forward, we will pursue all legal options against these false claims and Judge Moore will be vindicated," he said.
Nelson claims Moore had offered to give her a ride home from the restaurant where she worked. Instead, she says, he drove to an isolated area behind the restaurant, parked and "reached over and began groping me, putting his hands on my breasts." She claims he locked the door when she tried to leave and "tried fighting him off, while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping he began squeezing my neck attempting to force my head onto his crotch."
"I continued to struggle," Nelson said, "I was determined that I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him. I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought that he was going to rape me. I was twisting and struggling and begging him to stop. I had tears running down my face."
Nelson said that at some point "he gave up" and then told her: "You are a child. I am the district attorney of Etowah County. If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you."
She said Moore "finally allowed me to open the car door and I either fell out or he pushed me out."
"I was on the ground as he pulled out of the parking area behind the restaurant," she said. "The passenger door was open as he burned rubber pulling away leaving me laying there on the cold concrete in the dark."
Nelson said she went home and the following morning, "my neck was black and blue and purple."