President Donald Trump believes Alabama voters should determine for themselves whether allegations of sexual impropriety against Senate candidate Roy Moore are true and whether to elect him, his press secretary said on Thursday.
“The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks the people of Alabama should make the decision about who their next senator should be,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the White House.
Moore, 70, has been accused by an Alabama woman of sexual assault when she was 16 years old. Six other women have told the Washington Post on the record that Moore sought romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was an adult, and one said he initiated a sexual encounter with her.
A seventh woman told AL.com, the website for several Alabama newspapers, on Wednesday that Moore grabbed her buttocks in 1991, when she was 28 and was visiting his law office on legal business.
Sanders said Trump continues to believe that “if any of these allegations are true” Moore should withdraw from the race. That led to a series of questions from reporters about how the allegations might be substantiated. Sanders said “that should be determined, possibly, by a court of law” but that it is “a decision the people of Alabama should make, not the president.”
Trump also supports the National Republican Senate Committee, the fundraising body for Senate Republicans, ending financial support for Moore, she said. He has no plans to campaign with Moore, she said.
But he has not formally withdrawn his endorsement of Moore over Democrat Doug Jones.
Moore won the Republican nomination for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the special election is Dec. 12. He has denied the allegations and has refused to withdraw from the race.
“I look forward to serving in the United States Senate,” Moore told reporters on Thursday without taking questions.
Anything the president says about the matter risks resurfacing allegations made against Trump last year, during the presidential campaign. At least 11 women accused him of sexual improprieties before his election.
“The president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do,” Sanders said on Thursday, in answer to a question about the allegations against Trump. “He spoke out directly about that during the campaign and I don’t have anything further to add to it.”
Trump has also been silent, so far, on Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who faces his own accusation of sexual misconduct. A broadcaster and former model, Leeann Tweeden, said on Thursday that Franken forced himself on her and groped her while she slept during a 2006 United Service Organizations tour of the Mideast.
Franken issued a statement apologizing to Tweeden and calling for an investigation of himself by the Senate Ethics Committee.
“It appears that the Senate is looking into that, which they should,” Sanders said. “We feel that’s an appropriate reaction.”