(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump believes Alabama voters should decide whether to elect Senate candidate Roy Moore despite allegations of sexual impropriety, his press secretary said, distancing the president from a controversy that echoes one he faced in the 2016 campaign.
“The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks the people of Alabama should make the decision about who their next senator should be,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday at the White House.
Moore, 70, has been accused by an Alabama woman of sexual assault when she was 16 years old and he was in his 30s. Six other women have told the Washington Post on the record that Moore sought romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was an adult, and one said he initiated a sexual encounter with her.
Another woman told AL.com, the website for several Alabama newspapers, on Wednesday that Moore grabbed her buttocks in 1991, when she was 28 and was visiting his law office on legal business.
Sanders said Trump continues to believe that “if any of these allegations are true” Moore should withdraw from the race. That led to a series of questions from reporters about how the allegations might be substantiated. Sanders said “that should be determined, possibly, by a court of law” but that it is “a decision the people of Alabama should make, not the president.”
Anything the president says about the matter risks resurfacing allegations made against Trump last year, during the presidential campaign. At least 11 women accused him of sexual improprieties before his election.
“The president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do,” Sanders said on Thursday, in answer to a question about the allegations against Trump. “He spoke out directly about that during the campaign and I don’t have anything further to add to it.”
Trump has not formally withdrawn his endorsement of Moore over Democrat Doug Jones. Sanders said Trump supports a decision by the National Republican Senate Committee, the fundraising body for Senate Republicans, to end financial support for Moore, and the president has no plans to campaign with him.
Moore won the Republican nomination for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the special election is Dec. 12. He has denied the allegations and has refused to withdraw from the race.
“I look forward to serving in the United States Senate,” Moore told reporters on Thursday without taking questions.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said the party’s steering committee met Wednesday night and that it “supports Judge Roy Moore as our nominee and trusts the voters as they make the ultimate decision in this crucial race.”
“Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election -- not the media or those from afar,” Lathan said in a statement.
Trump has also been silent, so far, on Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who faces his own accusation of sexual misconduct. A broadcaster and former model, Leeann Tweeden, said on Thursday that Franken forced himself on her and groped her while she slept during a 2006 United Service Organizations tour of the Mideast.
Franken issued a statement apologizing to Tweeden and calling for an investigation of himself by the Senate Ethics Committee.
“It appears that the Senate is looking into that, which they should,” Sanders said. “We feel that’s an appropriate reaction.”
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