WASHINGTON - Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore declined Friday to rule out that he may have dated girls in their late teens when he was in his 30s, though he said he did not remember any such encounters and described such behavior as inappropriate.
"If I did, I'm not going to dispute these things, but I don't remember anything like that," Moore said on the Sean Hannity radio program, when asked if he dated 17- or 18-year-old girls at the time.
In the same interview, Moore denied outright the claim of Leigh Corfman that he had initiated sexual encounters with her when she was 14.
"I don't know Ms. Corfman from anybody," he said. "The allegations of sexual misconduct with her are completely false."
He did recall knowing two other accusers, Gloria Thacker Deason and Debbie Wesson Gibson, as well as their parents.
"I knew her as a friend," he said of Gibson, who has said Moore asked her on a date when she was 17 after speaking at her high school. "If we did go out on dates, then we did, but I do not remember that."
When asked about Deason's claim that he provided her wine on dates when she was 18, Moore said: "In this county, it's a dry county. We never would have had liquor."
Alcohol sales began in Etowah County in 1972, years before the alleged encounter, and the Post confirmed that wine was for sale at the time at the pizzeria where Deason remembered Moore taking her when she was under the legal drinking age of 19.
The legal age of consent for sexual activity in Alabama is 16, as it was at the time of these alleged encounters.
"After my return from the military, I dated a lot of young ladies," Moore told Hannity.
When Hannity asked Moore again if he could unequivocally say he never dated anybody in their late teens when he was 32, Moore said: "That's out of my customary behavior."
Hannity said he would not want his 17- or 18-year-old daughter dating a 32-year-old. "I wouldn't either," Moore said.
Moore's comments came as Republican leaders scrambled Friday to limit the political damage from the allegations.
Two Republican senators - Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Lee of Utah - withdrew endorsements of Moore after his interview with Hannity.
"Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate," Lee wrote in a tweet.
In a tweet, Daines offered less explanation - "I am pulling my endorsement and support for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate" - but he also retweeted Lee's statement.
And the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of a joint committee it had set up with Moore, depriving him of a fund-raising vehicle for the final weeks of the campaign. But current and former national party leaders admitted that they have little power to actually force Moore from the race. The election is Dec. 12.
Strategists also backed away from discussions for a Republican write-in campaign in the state, saying there was little hope of success if Moore stays in the race - and raising the possibility that Moore's scandal will remain a problem for the party into the 2018 midterm elections, as candidates are asked to take a position on the abuse of minors and intergenerational dating.
"Other Republicans are going to be dragged into it," said Steven Law, the CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund, a political committee affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) that opposed Moore's nomination.
The comments came a day after the Post published a story in which a woman said Moore had initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32. Three other women said he had taken them on dates when they were teenagers.
Moore's allies in Alabama attacked the accusers.
"What these women are doing is such a shame," State Rep. Ed Henry said in an interview Friday with Huntsville station WVNN-AM. "As a father of two daughters, they discredit when women actually are abused and taken advantage of. They're not using their supposed experience to find justice. They're just using it as a weapon, a political weapon."
At the same time, more national party leaders came forward to call on Moore to leave the race.
"Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections," said Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee. "I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside."
Romney joined his former rival, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), in calling for Moore to step down immediately.
Other Republican Senate leaders, including McConnell, have called on Moore to step down on the condition that the reports prove to be true - but they have not yet described a process for assessing the truth of the claims.