WASHINGTON — President Trump believes that the people of Alabama should decide whether to elect Roy Moore, despite mounting allegations of sexual assault and harassment of girls as young as 14 years old, the White House said.
"Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
The statement ended days of silence from the White House, since the allegations first arose last week while Trump was on a 12-day Asia trip. But Sanders stopped short of calling for Moore to drop out of the race, as a chorus of other Republican senators — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have done.
Nearly a week after The Washington Post first reported allegations against Moore, eight women have come forward with stories of inappropriate sexual advances, ranging from phone calls to sexual assault. Moore has denied the allegations, questioned the credibility of his accusers and condemned what he called a "witch hunt" by reporters.
"This is an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama and they will not stand for it," Moore said Thursday. “I want to tell you who needs to step down – that’s Mitch McConnell."
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Trump has been attempting to perform something of high-wire act on Moore. After endorsing his primary opponent, Luther Strange, Trump offered Moore an olive branch after he became the Republican nominee. "Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race," he tweeted, adding the #MAGA hashtag to say Moore would make America great again.
After the sexual harassment charges arose, Sanders issued a statement saying Trump expected that, if the allegations are true, "Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
On Thursday, Sanders said that position has not changed. "He still firmly believes that," she said. She declined to say whether Trump stood by his endorsement of Moore, and didn't know whether Trump would campaign for him. But she said Trump supported the decision by the National Republican Senate Committee to withdraw its support for Moore's campaign.
Trump himself has since declined to answer repeated questions about whether Moore should drop out, and Sanders gave no hint that Trump would personally address the issue. "It's actually my job to come out here and answer questions on his behalf," she said.
Asked about sexual harassment allegations that arose on Thursday against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sanders responded: "It appears that the Senate is looking into that, as it should. We feel that is an appropriate reaction."