Moore Accused of Sex Assault as McConnell Urges Candidate's ExitBy and
Woman comes forward describing alleged assault in late 1970s
Alabama Senate candidate defiant amid misconduct allegations
A woman accused Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore Monday of sexually assaulting her when she was 16, hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed Moore’s other accusers and called on the former Alabama judge to drop out of the campaign.
"Mr. Moore reached over and began groping me and putting his hands over my breasts," Beverly Young Nelson said at a news conference in New York City Monday with attorney Gloria Allred. Nelson said she yelled at him to stop, but "instead of stopping he began squeezing my neck attempting to force my head onto his crotch."
Moore’s campaign chairman accused Allred of leading a "witch hunt" against Moore. A number of GOP senators either called on him to quit the campaign, withdrew their previous support or said the Senate should take action such as expulsion if Moore wins. “He should not be a United States Senator,” said GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona. “Whatever it requires.”
“If the choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat, then the Democrat. No doubt," said Arizona’s other GOP Senator, Jeff Flake.
Moore remained defiant, telling reporters in Alabama, "This is absolutely false; I never did what she said I did, I don’t even know the woman, I don’t know anything about her." At an event in his hometown of Gallant that was broadcast by television station WBRC, he called the allegations a "political maneuver, and it has nothing to do with reality."
At the news conference, Allred displayed a high school yearbook that Nelson said Moore signed in December 1977, not long before the alleged attack. Nelson said that while she worked as a waitress in Alabama, Moore -- an assistant district attorney at the time -- came to the restaurant almost every night and stayed until closing time, flirting with her and pulling the ends of her long hair.
She said the attack occurred one night when her boyfriend was late picking her up after work. Moore offered to drive her home but instead drove around to the back of the restaurant. Nelson said she tried to fight him off and he gave up, telling her that if she told anyone about the attack nobody would believe her because he was a prosecutor. Nelson said she either fell out of the car or Moore pushed her, and he "burned rubber" pulling out of the parking lot, leaving her alone in the dark.
Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, said in a statement that Allred was "a sensationalist leading a witch hunt" and added, "Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone."
Call for Expulsion
Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said after Nelson’s news conference that if Moore wins the Dec. 12 election for the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "the Senate should vote to expel him."
A person close to Sessions said on condition of anonymity that the attorney general has been telling people at home in Alabama that he’s not interested in running as a write-in candidate for his old seat.
Nelson said she and her husband, John, voted for President Donald Trump and said, "This has nothing whatsoever to do with Republicans or Democrats.”
Allred called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing at which Nelson, who lives in Alabama, would testify under oath along with Moore. The lawyer said Nelson contacted her and decided to make her story public after four other women told the Washington Post that Moore had pursued them for dates when they were teenagers.
Allred held the yearbook open to a page that showed a handwritten inscription: "To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say "Merry Christmas." Christmas 1977 Love, Roy Moore D.A. 12-22-77 Olde Hickory House."
McConnell told reporters Monday morning he believes the women who earlier told the Post that Moore pursued them in the late 1970s. One woman told the Post he initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14.
“I think he should step aside,” McConnell said in his home state of Kentucky. "I believe the women, yes," the GOP leader said.
Moore quickly fired back, writing on Twitter, "The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced."
McConnell’s statement broke through a threshold that many Republican leaders set last week of qualified calls for Moore to step aside if the allegations proved true. It increases the pressure on Moore, who has strongly denied having sexual contact with the 14-year-old -- or even knowing her -- but acknowledged knowing two women who told the Post he pursued them for dates when they were 17 and 18. In a radio interview Friday with Sean Hannity, Moore said he couldn’t rule out having dated teenagers.
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, the longest-serving Republican currently in the Senate, joined McConnell shortly afterward. He wrote on Twitter, "I stand with the Majority Leader on this." Hatch said he thought that current Senator Luther Strange, who lost a runoff vote to Moore in September, "is an excellent alternative."
Strange said it’s "highly unlikely" he would mount a write-in candidacy.
GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine also said Monday on Twitter that Moore should withdraw from the Senate race. She said she listened to his radio interview and "did not find his denials to be convincing."
McConnell said Monday that a write-in campaign is a possibility to oppose Moore in the December special election.
“That’s an option we’re looking at -- whether or not there is someone who could mount a write-in campaign successfully,” McConnell said. Asked if it could be Strange, who lost to Moore despite McConnell’s support, the majority leader said, "We’ll see."
Four GOP senators withdrew earlier endorsements of Moore -- No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Steve Daines of Montana and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz maintained his position that Moore should drop out of the race if the allegations are true, though he also told reporters, "I am not able to urge the people of Alabama to support his candidacy so long as these allegations remain unrefuted."
Aides to Rand Paul of Kentucky, who also has backed Moore, didn’t respond to questions about the candidate.
Other Republicans calling on Moore to drop out of the race are GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana, who said on Twitter, "If he does not step aside, we need to act to protect the integrity of the Senate."
Moore, 70, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, has the national Republican Party in a difficult position just as the GOP is trying to pass massive tax-cut legislation. Moore could defeat Democratic nominee Doug Jones and taint the party before the 2018 congressional elections. Or he could lose and turn over a seat long held by Republicans to a Democrat, leaving the GOP with a one-vote majority in the Senate and imperiling their ability to deliver on promises to voters.
Moore’s support in Alabama hasn’t collapsed, but it’s weakened. Polls from Atlanta-based Opinion Savvy and Louisiana-based JMC Analytics, conducted after the Washington Post report, show that support for Moore has dropped with women, who make up the majority of Alabama voters, and evangelicals. One of the surveys showed the candidates tied and the other had Jones narrowly ahead but within the margin of error.
— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, Jennifer Epstein, and Sahil Kapur