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Trump boosts Moore in Ala. Senate race despite sexual misconduct allegations

"We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat," the president said about the seat.

President Donald Trump points to reporters as he leaves a news conference at the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Washington.
President Donald Trump points to reporters as he leaves a news conference at the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in Washington.Read moreManuel Balce Ceneta / AP

WASHINGTON – President Trump gave a boost Tuesday to embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, warning against a Democratic victory and emphasizing that the former judge "totally denies" allegations of inappropriate relationships with teenage girls.

"We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat," Trump said about Moore's opponent, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones, who has led in some recent polls in the state. "I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on military."

The comments came after a week in which other Republican leaders in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., had cut ties with Moore and called on him to exit the race. They also stood in contrast to Trump's own support for the Republican National Committee's decision last week to pull resources from the state, including 14 paid staffers and expertise in using party data to target voters and model the election result.

There were no signs Tuesday that the RNC would reverse course, but a senior administration official said the president's comments could prompt a larger effort to close ranks behind Moore.

"Normally there would be an outside group dumping $2 or $3 million attacking Doug Jones' record," the official said after the president spoke. "And now that the president has warned against having a liberal Democrat in that seat, that could be taken as signal to the outside groups."

Trump spoke as sexual harassment and abuse scandals continued to roil the nation's political landscape. In Congress, new allegations of harassment emerged Tuesday against Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released a statement calling for an ethics investigation of the matter. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also faces an ethics probe after admitting to grabbing at the chest of a woman for a photograph while she slept before he was in Congress.

Trump – who during the presidential campaign was accused by 11 women of unwanted touching or kissing and was caught on tape boasting of grabbing women's genitals without their consent – declined to comment directly on the allegations against Conyers or Franken but said he was happy that the misbehavior was becoming public.

"A lot of things are coming out, and I think that's good for our society, and I think it's very, very good for women, and I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out, and I'm very happy it's being exposed," he said on the South Lawn of the White House before leaving for Florida, where he will spend the Thanksgiving holiday.

Just before the president spoke, the Moore campaign issued a statement in Montgomery, saying they had evidence that cast doubt on the allegations of Leigh Corfman, who says she was touched sexually by Moore when she was 14 and he was in his 30s. The evidence they presented did not contradict Corfman's story.

Ben DuPré, a longtime aide to Moore, displayed documents he said were from the Corfman family's divorce file. The Post had obtained and reviewed a copy of the divorce file before publishing Corfman's story. He noted that her parents had concerns at the time, following a divorce, regarding Leigh's behavioral problems, a fact that is not contested.

DuPré also claimed that Corfman lived nearly a mile away from the intersection of Alcott Road and Riley Street in Gadsden, Alabama, where she says Moore picked her up. It was not clear what address DuPré was referring to. Corfman and her mother told The Post they lived at the time on Whittier Street, which is just around the corner from the alleged pickup point.

DuPré also pointed to a Breitbart article in which Corfman's mother is quoted saying that there was no phone in her daughter's room at the time. Both Corfman and her mother have said they had a phone on a long cord in the hallway that could be brought into Leigh Corfman's room.

The RNC broke ties with Moore on Nov. 14 as the president was returning from Asia. There was, however, some disagreement inside the administration at the time about the best path forward. "All the right political people were not read into that decision," said the senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about the decision and was part of the discussion. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said the president supported the decision.

But over the past week, the White House position began to change. In a "Fox & Friends" interview Monday morning, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway tacitly supported Moore by talking about the importance of keeping Jones, whom she cast as a "doctrinaire liberal," from winning Alabama's Senate seat – a message that was deliberate, one White House official said.

Conway alerted Trump in advance that she planned to make the argument against Jones, and the president agreed with the strategy, saying he was eager to see what the response was, the official said.

White House aides also realized that Trump had come around to that approach – stressing the importance of keeping the seat in Republican control – when he began making the argument privately.

Although his comments to the news media Tuesday afternoon were unplanned, aides were not surprised when Trump made them.

In recent days, Trump had also begun expressing skepticism in private about the allegations against Moore. The president pointed to the presence of Gloria Allred – a well-known lawyer for sexual misconduct cases, who is representing one of Moore's accusers – as well as the timing of the accusations, so close to the election, as indicators of a political attack on Moore.

Democrats have dominated the broadcast airwaves in Alabama for weeks, spending more than seven times as much as Moore on television and radio ads, according to a Democrat and a Republican tracking the ad data.

The latest ad by Jones plays back criticism of Moore that Ivanka Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., gave in the aftermath of allegations that Moore made unwanted advances on teenage girls.

Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, is quoted as saying of the Moore allegations: "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children." Sessions is quoted from a congressional hearing where he was asked about the Moore story: "I have no reason to doubt these young women." And Shelby, who has been critical of Moore, is quoted about his plan to write in another name on the ballot.

The ad targets Republicans and Republican-leaning voters who make up a majority of the state. The goal is to give them permission to vote for a Democrat in the Dec. 12 special election.

"Most Alabamians haven't voted for a Democrat for U.S. Senate in a generation," said Zac McCrary, an Alabama-based pollster for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "You are butting up against a generation of Republican muscle memory,"

At a short Tuesday afternoon news conference, Jones smiled faintly as a reporter read back Trump's criticism of him as a "soft on crime" liberal. As a federal prosecutor, Jones obtained convictions in the early 2000s of two members of the Ku Klux Klan for their role in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four young African-American girls.

"I feel like my record speaks for itself," Jones said. "I know my record on crime and criminal-justice issues. I know my record on everything else. We've got three weeks to go, and people are going to make that judgment."

Asked if he considered Moore to be a sexual predator, Jones said he was less interested in characterizing his opponent than in listening to the accusers.

"I believe the women. I think that answers the question," he said. "I'm not going to call names."

With three weeks to go until the vote, it is unclear if a Republican-leaning outside group will invest in the race to attack Jones.

Ed Rollins, chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, said that while his group has not made any decisions about what money to invest in Alabama going forward, any future ads probably would be attacking Jones rather than overtly supporting Moore.

"We think it's always important that you get someone who is going to be a pro-Trump supporter," Rollins said. "Obviously Alabamians are going to make up their mind. The only advertising we've done to date has been anti-Jones. We've not made any decisions, but if we did anything else, it would be along the same lines."