(WASHINGTON) — Controversial Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore denied a Washington Post report Thursday that he engaged in sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl in the late 1970s, as prominent Republicans began to question whether he should remain in the race.
“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,” read a statement from Moore’s campaign, calling the story a “last ditch Hail Mary” by liberal organizations backing his Democratic Senate rival Doug Jones.
“After over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now,” the statement continued, with Moore himself calling the report a “completely false and desperate political attack.”
The Washington Post interviewed more than 30 people for its story, which included descriptions of a 32-year-old Moore kissing and removing the clothing of a 14-year-old girl in alleged encounters with her in 1979. Three additional women told the newspaper that Moore courted them between the ages of 16 and 18 while Moore was in his 30s. Neither the 14-year-old nor her family members reported the encounters to authorities at the time and none of the subjects of the report accused Moore of a crime. The age of consent in Alabama in 1979 was, and remains, 16 years old.
Reached by ABC News Thursday, Nancy Wells, whose daughter Leigh Corfman is the then-14-year-old named by The Washington Post, confirmed the details of the newspaper’s reporting. Wells did not provide additional comment.
The report immediately led to sweeping backlash in the political world, with a number of prominent members of Moore’s own party calling for the candidate to withdraw from the race if the story is genuine.
President Donald Trump — who supported Moore’s opponent, Sen. Luther Strange, in the primary — delivered comment via press secretary Sarah Sanders shortly after landing in Vietnam on Friday ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
“Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation — in this case, one from many years ago — to destroy a person’s life,” Sanders said. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside. Regardless, the president must and will remain focused on representing our country on his historic trip to Asia, where he has been treated with great respect and made unprecedented progress in further strengthening alliances and promoting America’s interest above all else.”
“If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a statement.
“The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., the chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, in a statement. “If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election.”
Unlike McConnell and Gardner’s statements, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called for Moore to “immediately step aside,” without making mention of the authenticity of the story. “The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” he wrote on Twitter.
Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah said Pence “found the allegations in the story disturbing and believes, if true, this would disqualify anyone from serving in office.”
According to the Alabama secretary of state’s office, a candidate can only be removed from the state’s ballot if the request is submitted more than 76 days before the election. With the special election for the Senate seat formerly occupied by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions set for Dec. 12, Moore’s name cannot be removed should he choose to withdraw.
If Moore were to officially step aside, any votes cast for him would not be certified by any canvassing board, and any alternative Republican candidate would need to launch a write-in campaign.
Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice removed from his post, defeated President Donald Trump-backed Sen. Luther Strange in a primary runoff for the Alabama Senate special election in September. He has since been endorsed by a number of sitting U.S. senators including McConnell, Gardner, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Strange told ABC News on Thursday that he found the story “very, very disturbing.” Asked if he would be willing to run as a write-in candidate, he responded, “No comment.”
In a statement, Jones’ campaign said, “Roy Moore needs to answer these serious charges.”
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