A pastor in Alabama said he received a voice mail Tuesday from an individual falsely claimed to be a reporter with The Washington Post and seeking women "willing to make damaging remarks" about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in exchange for money. The call comes days after The Post reported on allegations that 70-year-old Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago, sparking calls by some Republicans for him to abandon his campaign for the U.S. Senate in a special election to be held Dec. 12.
Pastor Al Moore of Creola, Alabama, said that he received the call on his cellphone a little after 7 a.m. Tuesday from a private number, which he did not answer. The caller, claiming to be "Bernie Bernstein," left a 27-second voicemail, which Moore played for local CBS-affiliate WKRG.
"I'm a reporter for the Washington Post calling to find out if anyone at this address is a female between the ages of 54 to 57 years old, willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between 5,000 and 7,000 dollars," the caller said in the voice mail.
The caller said he would not be "fully investigating these claims" but would make a written report. He said he could be reached by email at email@example.com.
Moore said he mentioned the call to a couple of members of the church and quickly realized that it didn't add up. The caller first referred to himself as "Bernie" and then later gave his name as "Al." Moore also sent an email to the address left in the voice mail, which bounced back.
His church, the Fountain Of Faith Baptist Church, posted on Facebook Tuesday morning about a call from an "Al Bernstein at the Washington Post. Hmmmm."
Marty Baron, executive editor of the The Washington Post, said that the caller's reporting methods bear "no relationship to reality."
"The Post has just learned that at least one person in Alabama has received a call from someone falsely claiming to be from The Washington Post," Baron said in a statement to WKRG. "The call's description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality. We are shocked and appalled that anyone would stoop to this level to discredit real journalism."
John Rogers, a spokesman for the Roy Moore campaign, could not be immediately reached by The Post. He told WKRG reporter Bill Riales that he hadn't previously heard about the call.
Al Moore told Riales that he is in no way related to Roy Moore, even though they share the same last name. The pastor said he thought the voice mail was from a robocall meant to stir up an already divisive race, and he reached out to WKRG because "people are just going crazy with this."
"Let's let the people who are investigating do their job and expose it if it's real, and shut it if it's not," he said.
In The Post's investigation published last week, Leigh Corfman alleged that Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 years old and he was 32. Three other women, all on the record, have said that Roy Moore pursued them when they were between 16 and 18 years old. A fifth woman came forward on Monday, saying Roy Moore sexually assaulted her in the 1970s when she was 16.
Since The Post's report, the fact-checking site Snopes debunked unsubstantiated rumors that The Post had paid Corfman to go on the record and accuse Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. Post spokeswoman Molly Gannon Conway called the accusation "categorically false," adding that The Post has "an explicit policy that prohibits paying sources."
Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Roy Moore's Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don't know one another.
Roy Moore has denied the allegations, and has showed no indication that he intends to bow out of the race. Speaking at Walker Springs Road Baptist Church in rural south Alabama Tuesday evening, the senate candidate said he knows he has "made a few people mad."
"I'm the only one who can unite Democrats and Republicans, because I'm opposed by both. They've done everything they could, and now they are together to try to keep me from going to Washington," Moore said.
Voters in Alabama told The Post that they feel torn about the allegations. Some evangelicals in Alabama still consider Moore a champion of their faith – a politician willing to stand up for Christian values. But other evangelicals feel the allegations force them to make an uncomfortable decision.
Al Moore, the pastor, said he's on the fence about whether to vote for Roy Moore.
"I'm a pastor and I'm conservative, and so is Roy Moore, but I'm not dumb," he said. "I don't know whether the guy is guilty or not. I'm on the fence until we know more."