WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday all but endorsed Roy Moore in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race, defending the Republican nominee against multiple allegations of sexual misconduct while criticizing his Democratic rival.
“I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump said of Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney.
Trump did not rule out campaigning for Moore as the Dec. 12 special election approaches.
Nine women have accused the former state judge of sexual impropriety. The first to come forward said she was 14 when Moore, then in his 30s, undressed her and touched her inappropriately.
Is Moore, an alleged child molester, “better than a Democrat?” a reporter asked Trump on Tuesday.
“Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it,” the president responded. “He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said, 40 years ago, this did not happen.”
Trump took questions as he and his family departed the White House to spend their Thanksgiving holiday at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The comments were his first on the Alabama race since the wave of allegations against Moore began.
They were consistent with those a day earlier by counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway in a Fox News interview.
But they clashed with condemnation of Moore by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — among many others in the GOP — as well as adviser to the president Ivanka Trump.
The first daughter had told The Associated Press: “There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I’ve yet to see a valid explanation, and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”
Her quote is used in an TV ad by the Jones campaign, which has seen an uptick in polling numbers in the deep red state amid sexual harassment claims against Moore.
On Tuesday, spokesmen for the Moore campaign held a news conference in Alabama during which they sought to dismantle the details of the accusers’ accounts. They said they believe Moore and not the women’s “lies.”
Trump, himself the target of several allegations of unwanted sexual advances that came out during his campaign, had led off his remarks to reporters by focusing on Jones’ platform.
“We do not need somebody that’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the Second Amendment,” the president said.
He did not use the opportunity to denounce Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) or call for his ouster. Two women have accused Franken of groping them.
“I don’t want to speak for Al Franken. I don’t know what happened,” Trump said. “He’s going to have to speak for himself.”
Trump said he believes Congress should release the names of lawmakers who have settled sexual harassment claims.
He had no comment about a settlement of a wrongful termination complaint against Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), reportedly by a staffer who rebuffed his advances.
Also Tuesday, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone call lasting more than an hour, according to the White House. The two leaders spoke about conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and North Korea, the White House said.
Trump during his trip to Vietnam earlier this month met in person with Putin, who Trump said denies Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election.