More than a dozen Republican senators urged Roy Moore, the party's candidate for Senate in Alabama, to drop out of the race if reports are verified that he forced a 14-year-old girl into a sexual encounter in 1979 when he was 32. The accusations were made in a report in The Washington Post on Thursday.
The woman, Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Post that 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."
In a statement from his campaign, Moore, now 70, vehemently denied the allegations, calling them "a baseless political attack" and "the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation."
"Judge Roy Moore has endured the most outlandish attacks on any candidate in the modern political arena, but this story in today’s Washington Post alleging sexual impropriety takes the cake," Moore campaign chair Bill Armistead said in statement. "National liberal organizations know their chosen candidate Doug Jones is in a death spiral, and this is their last ditch Hail Mary."
"The Washington Post has already endorsed the Judge’s opponent, and for months, they have engaged in a systematic campaign to distort the truth about the Judge’s record and career and derail his campaign. In fact, just two days ago, the Foundation for Moral Law sent a retraction demand to the Post for the false stories they wrote about the Judge’s work and compensation. But apparently, there is no end to what the Post will allege," Armistead added. "After over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now."
David Ferguson, who managed the last campaign to defeat Moore in a GOP primary, Robert Bentley's 2010 campaign for governor, said many Alabama Republicans just don’t believe the Washington Post story passes the smell test.
"It could have the opposite effect where it could have people rushing to his aid who were not involved before,” Ferguson said. "Roy Moore has a real base of support. This could very much be like poking the bear, or hitting the beehive with a baseball bat."
And while the report could turn off donors, Ferguson said, national groups are not spending much in the race anyway to save their resources for more competitive elections.
The allegation comes just over a month before the December 12 Alabama special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Polls show Moore leading Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, by a comfortable margin.
Republicans wasted no time in responding, with at least 13 GOP senators urging Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations proved true.
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"If these allegations are true, he must step aside," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told NBC News.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One in Vietnam, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump "believes if allegations are true, he will do the right thing and step aside."
Thursday evening on Twitter, Moore seemingly vowed to remain in the race.
"Our children and grandchildren’s futures are on the line. So rest assured — I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!" Moore said.
In a series of tweets, Moore also claimed: "The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I've EVER faced!" and "I believe you and I have a duty to stand up and fight back against the forces of evil waging an all-out war on our conservative values!"
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that Moore should step aside immediately.
"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," McCain said. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of."
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Co., who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called the allegations "deeply troubling," adding that if they "are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election."
"I think if what we read is true — and people are on the record, so I assume it is — that he should step aside. I think it’d be best for him, best for the state," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that, "If there any shred of truth to these stories, he ought to step aside now."
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called the story "devastating" and "nasty" and said, "If that’s true, then I don’t believe there’d be any place for him in the U.S. Senate."
GOP Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., all issued virtually identical responses, as well.
If Moore — who served twice as a chief justice of the state Supreme Court and has unsuccessfully run for governor twice — were to drop out, his name would remain on the ballot. Alabama law states that a general election candidate must withdraw 76 days before the date of the election to be removed from the ballot. If a candidate withdraws after that deadline, his or her name must remain on the ballot but no votes for the candidate can be certified. As of Thursday, the special election was only 33 days away.
There could, however, be some precedent for a court challenge. In 2002, an embattled Democratic Senate candidate in New Jersey dropped out of the race after the withdrawal deadline, and Democrats ultimately prevailed in a legal challenge to allow a replacement on the ballot anyway.
According to The Post, the relationship between Moore and Corfman began in 1979, when he approached her and her mother outside a courtroom in rural Alabama and offered to watch the teenage girl while her mother went into court for a hearing.
The Post interviewed both Corfman and her mother, Nancy Wells, as well as two of Corfman's childhood friends, who said Corfman told them at the time that she had been dating an older man. One of Corfman's friends identified the man as Moore.
Moore, then a district attorney in Etowah County, asked the girl for her phone number, and picked her up for a date days later, when he drove her to his house and kissed her.
The sexual encounter Corfman detailed to The Post occurred during second meeting between her and Moore.
"I wanted it over with — I wanted out," Corfman told The Post. "Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."
Corfman said she told Moore her age at the time. The age of legal consent in Alabama is 16.
According to The Post, Alabama state law defines sexual abuse in the second degree as a person who is 19 or older having sexual contact with someone aged 12 to 16.
Corfman never filed a police report or a civil suit, the paper reported, and the statute of limitations for bringing charges would have expired three years after the alleged incident.
The Post also interviewed three other women who claim Moore "pursued" them when they were 16 to 18 and when he was in his early 30s.