WASHINGTON – President Trump considers the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore "extremely troubling" but doesn't plan to rescind his endorsement of the former state judge and firmly believes that Alabama voters should be the ones to pick their next senator, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday.
"The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be," Sanders told reporters at a briefing.
Sanders said that if the accusations are true, the president wants Moore to drop out of the race, but she repeatedly declined to say whether the president believes the women who have accused Moore of abuse or misconduct. Sanders did say that the president "supported the decision" by the Republican National Committee earlier this week to pull funding from Moore's race.
Trump has largely refrained from commenting on the allegations against Moore, who has been publicly accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s, initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl about 40 years ago. Moore has denied all of these charges and has refused to drop out of the race.
During a lengthy overseas trip to Asia last week, Sanders told reporters that "like most Americans, the president does not believe we can allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person's life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside." On Saturday, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he is sticking with that same statement "for now, but I'll have further comment as we go down the road" when he returns from the trip.
Since returning late Tuesday, Trump has not mentioned Moore in any public comments or tweets, and he has ignored questions about Moore that reporters have shouted at him.
Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter who works as an adviser in the White House, said earlier this week that "there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children" and that she has "no reason to doubt the victims' accounts," although she has not called for Moore to drop out of the race.
During the Thursday briefing, Sanders was asked about allegations raised by several women during the campaign that Trump touched and kissed them without their consent. Trump has repeatedly denied these allegations, and Sanders recently said that the president continues to consider all of those women liars.
"The president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn't do, and he spoke out about that directly during the campaign, and I don't have anything further to add beyond that," Sanders said, when asked to compare the charges against Trump to those against Moore.
In an extensive report published last week, the Post detailed allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago when he was in his early 30s and that he pursued three other girls around the same time who were between the ages of 16 and 18.
None of the women sought out the Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of 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.