President Trump speaks up for Moore, warns against his ‘liberal’ rival

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House for a Thanksgiving trip to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump discounted the sexual assault allegations against embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and insisted that voters must not support Moore’s “liberal” rival.

The President said he would announce next week whether he will campaign for Moore, who faces Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

President Trump dismissed questions from reporters about backing a Republican accused of sexual assault over a man who is a Democrat. He pointed to Moore’s assertions that he did nothing wrong.

“Roy Moore denies it, that’s all I can say,” President Trump said Tuesday.

Two Alabama women have accused Moore of assault or molestation — including one who says she was 14 at the time — and six others have said he pursued romantic relationships when they were teenagers and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s.

President Trump didn’t explicitly say he was endorsing Moore, but he said with emphasis, “We don’t need a liberal person in there. … We don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime like Jones.”

A White House official said Tuesday that the attack on Jones did not amount to a formal endorsement of Moore, only that President Trump was communicating that sending the Democrat to Washington would hamper his agenda.

The President also noted that the allegations came from behavior alleged to have happened decades ago.

“Forty years is a long time,” President Trump said, questioning why it took so long for Moore’s accusers to come forward.

Republican leaders in Washington have called for Moore to leave the race, and the White House has repeatedly said President Trump himself felt Moore would “do the right thing and step aside” if the allegations proved true.

The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have pulled their support for his campaign.

Republican leaders briefly explored the possibility of seeking a write-in candidate but have determined those efforts would only increase Jones’ chances by splitting the GOP vote in the Republican state.

The allegations against Moore come amid a national reckoning over misdeeds by powerful men in media, business and politics.

Just Tuesday, longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers acknowledged that his office settled a sexual harassment complaint involving a former staffer, though he “vehemently” denied allegations in the complaint.

BuzzFeed reported that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected the Democrat’s sexual advances.

President Trump said he was “very happy” that women are speaking out about their experiences.

“I think it’s a very special time because a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women,” he said.

More than a dozen women came forward in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election to say that President Trump had sexually assaulted or harassed them over the years. He denied it. A tape was also released catching him boasting in 2005 that he could grab women’s private parts with impunity. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” President Trump said on the “Access Hollywood” tape.

President Trump, who has said all of his accusers lied, declined to answer Tuesday when asked why he does not believe Moore’s accusers.

Moore’s camp has begun firing back at the media and one of the accusers. His campaign held an afternoon news conference to vigorously question the account of Beverly Nelson, who said Moore assaulted her when she was a 16-year-old waitress.

The campaign quoted two former restaurant employees and a former customer who said they did not remember Nelson working there or Moore eating there.