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Trump mum on Moore

Profile image for Zeke Miller and Steve Peoples
Zeke Miller and Steve Peoples, Associated Press

GOP candidate's camp challenges accuser's credibility

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump dodged questions about the turmoil in the Alabama Senate race on Wednesday, declining to join national Republicans who've called for Roy Moore to abandon the race amid allegations of sexual impropriety with teenage girls. Far from surrendering, Moore's camp challenged the credibility of one of the accusers.

Trump, who withstood allegations of sexual assault weeks before his own election, was uncharacteristically silent when faced with questions about the scandal, which has rattled the party and left Moore's would-be colleagues threatening to expel him should he win. Republicans had looked to Trump as one of the few remaining hopes for pushing a fellow political rebel from the race.

Moore, meanwhile, offered fighting words in a tweet addressed to the top Senate Republican: "Dear Mitch McConnell, Bring. It. On."

Chris Hansen, executive director of the national GOP's Senate campaign committee, fired back, "Bring It On is a movie about cheerleaders."

In Alabama, Moore's campaign chairman and personal attorney did address reporters, trying to undercut the story of one of the women who has accused Moore of sexually accosting her when she was in high school.

The attorney, Phillip Jauregui, demanded that Nelson "release the yearbook" she contends Moore signed. The lawyer questioned whether the signature was Moore's and said it should be submitted for handwriting analysis. Neither the attorney nor the campaign manager addressed the original allegations from Corfman who says that Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14. They did not take questions.

Gloria Allred, Nelson's attorney, later said her client would allow the yearbook to be examined only if Moore is questioned under oath by a Senate committee.

The unusual news conference suggested Moore, a judge twice removed from his post as state Supreme Court chief justice, was digging in, leaving his party with two damaging potential election outcomes. His victory would saddle GOP senators with a colleague accused of abusing and harassing teenagers, a troubling liability heading into next year's congressional elections, while a loss to Democrat Doug Jones would slice the already narrow GOP Senate majority to an unwieldy 51-49.

It's too late to remove Moore's name from the ballot, so fielding a Republican write-in at this point would almost certainly hand the election to the Democrats unless he should withdraw and persuade his supporters to vote for that substitute.

According to internal polling conducted by the Senate GOP campaign arm and reviewed by The Associated Press, Moore trails Democrat Jones by 12 points -- 39 percent to 51 percent -- in the survey conducted on Sunday and Monday. Moore led by 9 points the week before in the National Republican Senatorial Committee's internal numbers.

Behind the scenes, aides described Trump as vexed by the Moore issue. Even if he should speak out, he might make an uncomfortable critic: The allegations against the bombastic former judge echo Trump's own political problems when he was accused weeks before the 2016 election of more than a dozen instances of sexual harassment. The Trump aides would not be named discussing the matter because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

FEATURED PHOTO: Phillip L. Jauregui, left, an attorney for former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, and Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead speak at a news conference Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/AP)