An Alabama woman says Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for next month's U.S. Senate election, made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14, according to a Washington Post story Thursday. The Senate's GOP leader, Mitch McConnell, said if the report is shown to be true, Moore must step aside.
The woman, Leigh Corfman, says Moore met her several times when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s and at one point drove her to his home, where he touched her over her underwear and guided her hand to touch him over his, the Post reported. They did not have sexual intercourse, the report said.
"I wanted it over with — I wanted out," she told the Post. "Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."
Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by the Post in recent weeks said Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was 32. None of the other women said that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact.
Moore, 70, denied the allegations in a statement to the Post: "These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign."
The Moore campaign dismissed the report as "the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation." Saying in a statement: "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." The campaign noted that Moore has been married to the same woman for 33 years and has four children and five grandchildren.
Moore is facing the allegations of sexual misconduct with minors decades ago one month before Alabama's special election — and there was an immediate backlash from party leaders who demanded he quit the race if the accusations prove true. The news sparked swift reaction from politicians on both sides of the aisle.
The allegations come amid a climate that has been flooded with sexual harassment and assault allegations across many industries, sparked by Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal breaking in early October.
Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, has made his name in Republican politics through his public devotion to hardline Christian conservative positions. He was twice removed from his Supreme Court position, once for disobeying a federal court order to remove a 5,200 pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building, and later for urging state probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage.
On Thursday, senior Republicans swiftly called for Moore to step aside from the Senate race if the allegations are shown to be true. And the man he defeated in the Republican primary, current Sen. Luther Strange, left open the possibility he may re-enter the campaign.
Moore's name cannot be removed from the ballot before the Dec. 12 special election even if he withdraws from the race, according to John Bennett, a spokesman for the Alabama secretary of state. A write-in campaign remains possible, Bennett added.
Strange wouldn't immediately say whether he'd re-enter the race.
"Well, that's getting the cart ahead of the horse. But I will have something to say about that. Let me do some more research," he told the AP.
The Alabama special election is to fill the vacancy created when Trump tapped former Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as the U.S. attorney general. Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange in the interim.
Reaction after the Post story was published online was swift and severe.
"The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling," said Colorado Sen. Chairman Cory Gardner, who leads the Senate GOP campaign arm. "If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added, "If these allegations are true, he must step aside."
The intensity of the reaction may partly reflect lingering bad feelings from the primary contest between Strange and Moore, held in late September, that pitted much of the Republican establishment — including President Donald Trump — behind Strange and the GOP's more conservative flank — including former Trump strategist Steve Bannon — behind Strange.
Neither Bannon nor the White House had an immediate comment.
In Washington at least, few Republicans came to Moore's defense in the hours after the report was published.
"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," said Arizona Sen. John McCain. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, "If it is true I don't think his candidacy is sustainable."
Alabama law lists the legal age of consent as 16.
The state's statute of limitations for bringing felony charges involving sexual abuse of a minor in 1979 would have run out three years later. Corfman never filed a police report or a civil suit, the Post said.