Roy Moore, GOP Senate candidate and former Alabama chief justice, speaks during the annual Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Updated at 6:06 p.m. ET
Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is continuing to deny a Thursday Washington Post report detailing allegations that he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32.
But in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on his radio show Friday afternoon, Moore did not outright deny dating teenagers when he was in his 30s, giving several conflicting answers after being pressed by Hannity.
When Hannity asked Moore if he had ever dated girls who were 16, 17 or 18 years of age, he answered “not generally, no” and added that dating a girl in her late teens “would have been out of my customary behavior.”
“I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother,” Moore also said.
Later the former Alabama chief justice said he did not recall ever dating a girl in her late teens and agreed that it would have been “inappropriate.”
Moore vehemently denied ever knowing Leigh Corfman, the woman who went on the record, along with her mother, to detail to the Post the alleged assault at the age of 14, which was consistent and was corroborated by friends and records, the Post says. She described meeting Moore, who was then an assistant district attorney, at the courthouse in Etowah County, Ala., where he offered to watch her while her mother attended a custody hearing. Days later he took her home and removed their clothes, she said, touching her over her underwear and placing her hand on his underwear-clad genitals. The age of consent in Alabama is 16.
But he did admit to knowing two of the women also named in the Post report — Debbie Wesson Gibson, who says she was 17 when Moore asked her out after speaking to her high school civics class and that they dated for a few months, and Gloria Thacker Deason, who says she and Moore dated off and on when she was 18 and he was 32 after meeting at the mall.
Moore told Hannity that when he returned to Alabama from the military he “dated a lot of young ladies” but did not remember whether he dated either of those two women and didn’t remember “specific dates.”
Deason also told the Post that during a dinner date she believes Moore gave her alcohol when she was under the then-legal drinking age of 19. Moore also denied that.
Just ahead of his interview Friday with Hannity, Moore’s campaign put out a statement more pointed than its reactions Thursday night:
I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct. As a father of a daughter and a grandfather of five granddaughters, I condemn the actions of any man who engages in sexual misconduct not just against minors but against any woman.
I also believe that any person who has been abused should feel the liberty to come forward and seek protection.
I know that a lot of people wonder why this story was written. Why would women say these things if they are not true? I can’t fully answer that because as much as I have disagreed vehemently on political issues with many people over the years, I cannot understand the mentality of using such a dangerous lie to try to personally destroy someone.
As a former Judge and administer of the law, I take the protection of our innocent as one of my most sacred callings. False allegations are gravely serious and will have a profound consequence on those who are truly harassed or molested.
Republican officials in Alabama and across the country have had mixed responses to the allegations against Moore. Some politicians are casting doubt on the women’s stories, while others are expressing dismay — and, in some cases, Republican officials are defending Moore’s alleged actions as not problematic at all.
Alabama Covington County GOP Chairman William Blocker tells me Democrats convinced these women to tell a fake story to damage Moore.
I told him the 14-year-old became a Trump voter.
“That’s the typical background or profile of somebody they would be using for that,” he said.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
The Post‘s report was based on interviews with 30 people. None of the four women approached the newspaper, the Post says; reporters reached out to them after hearing rumors of Moore’s behavior in the ’70s and ’80s.
Moore’s campaign has described the allegations as a Democratic attempt to undermine his bid for the Senate, ahead of the special election on Dec. 12. (The Post said none of the four women have donated to or worked for Moore’s Democratic opponent in the race, Doug Jones.)
That line of response has been picked up by many others. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the Huffington Post that the timing of the report was “odd,” and Madison County GOP Chairman Sam Givhan told the outlet he is “obviously suspicious” of the story.
Some right-wing commentators, without outright denying the allegations, sought to downplay the significance of the story.
Joel Pollak, an editor at Breitbart, appeared on MSNBC to argue that three of the four women’s accounts had “no business” in the national news, because a 30-something Moore pursuing relationships with 16- to 18-year-olds was not inappropriate. “As far as we know, there’s only one relationship that’s been alleged that’s problematic,” Pollak said, referring to Moore’s alleged sexual contact with a 14-year-old.
He did not, however, attempt to defend the described sexual encounter with a 14-year-old, which would have been a criminal act under Alabama law at the time.
After a long pause, Alabama Bibb County Republican chairman Jerry Pow tells me he’d vote for Roy Moore even if Moore did commit a sex crime against a girl.
“I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn’t want to vote for Doug,” he says. “I’m not saying I support what he did.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 9, 2017
But multiple officials did defend the alleged behavior.
“Other than being with an underage person – he didn’t really force himself,” Alabama Geneva County GOP chairman Riley Seibenhener tells me. “I know that’s bad enough, but I don’t know. If he withdraws, it’s five weeks to the election…that would concede it to the Democrat.”
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 10, 2017
Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star, spoke with a number of Alabama Republican county chairs. One said he didn’t see the “relevance” of a 32-year-old man kissing a 14-year-old girl or “trying” to touch her genitals. (The woman says Moore touched her over her underwear.) Another said that “14-year-olds don’t make good decisions.”
At least two said they would vote for Moore even if he had committed sex crimes against a 14-year-old.
And Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler seized headlines when he said there is “just nothing immoral or illegal” about the described encounter, comparing the assault to biblical marriages.
“Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Ziegler told the Washington Examiner. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Some evangelical leaders sharply criticized Ziegler’s response in comments to The Washington Post. Ed Stetzer, who is the Billy Graham chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College, called the comparison to Mary and Joseph “simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous.”
Ziegler also noted, in defense of Moore, that Moore married a woman who is younger than he is — he was 38 and his wife 24 when they married.
But nationally, GOP leaders were less likely to defend Moore’s actions and more likely to say the allegations were disturbing, without necessarily ruling on their veracity.
The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) November 9, 2017
Most Senate Republicans took an “if true” stance, as Talking Points Memo puts it — that is, saying that the women’s accounts of their experiences are not enough to prompt calls for Moore’s resignation but that he should remove himself from the race if the accusations are legitimate.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, however, tweeted that Moore should step aside “immediately.”
As NPR reported Thursday night, Moore, who was removed as Alabama’s chief justice twice for his refusal to comply with federal court decisions, shows no signs of being inclined to leave the race.
“In a statement, Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, said, ‘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. National liberal organizations know their chosen candidate Doug Jones is in a death spiral, and this is their last ditch Hail Mary.’
“Moore later sent out a series of tweets blaming ‘The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs,’ referring to ‘the forces of evil’ arrayed against him and fellow conservatives who ‘are in the midst of a spiritual battle.’ …
“Moore rose to fame after he refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments he’d had placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. That led to his being removed from the bench the first time. He was subsequently elected again to the bench but later suspended after ordering state judges to defy the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the country.
“Moore has campaigned as a Christian nationalist, frequently touting his faith and conservative social positions. In the past, Moore has said that ‘homosexual conduct’ should be illegal and has compared such acts to bestiality. The Post has also reported that Moore did not disclose the $180,000-per-year salary he took for part-time work he did for his charity, the Foundation for Moral Law.”
On Friday, a day after news of the allegations broke, the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to end participation in a joint fundraising committee. The Alabama Republican Party and the Republican National Committee, however, remain fundraising partners with Moore.
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