Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Roy Moore threatens lawsuit, seeks to refocus campaign on conservative religious values amid firestorm

WASHINGTON -— Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama sought to refocus his campaign on the conservative religious ideals most likely to motivate his base voters, dismissing the national firestorm over allegations of sexual misconduct while Breitbart News worked to discredit his accusers.

Addressing a gathering at the Huntsville Christian Academy in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sunday night, the former judge suggested that he was investigating his accusers, threatened to sue the Washington Post and called on the United States to restore its culture by going "back to God."

"We can be proud of where we came from and where we’re going if we go back to God," Moore said at his second public event since the Post reported the allegations of misconduct last week."If we go back to God, we can be unified again," he said.

Moore’s attempt to steer the political conversation in Alabama back to conservative Christian values came as he weathered a fourth day of repercussions from allegations by four women that he sought romantic or sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

One of the accusers, Leigh Corfman, said she was 14 when Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her.

"We’ve still got investigations going on," Moore said, referring to his accusers. "We’re still finding out a lot we didn’t know."

Echoing a remark by his wife Saturday, Moore also said the Post "will be sued" for its reporting. The event was closed to news reporters, but aides to Moore broadcast his remarks live on Facebook.

Moore’s campaign received backup Sunday from Breitbart News, which sent employees to Alabama to investigate Corfman and the three other women.

In an article published Sunday titled Mother of Roy Moore Accuser: Washington Post Reporters Convinced My Daughter to Go Public, Breitbart quoted Corfman’s mother as saying that Post reporters sought out her daughter, not vice versa.

"She did not go to them," Nancy Wells said, according to Breitbart. "They called her."

Breitbart’s chairman, Steve Bannon, supports Moore’s candidacy and has said the accusers are trying to "destroy a man’s life." Bannon is a former adviser to President Donald Trump and is still considered close to him.

Moore’s remarks Sunday night in northern Alabama received a standing ovation. But in Washington, support for his campaign to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued to flag throughout the weekend.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., on Sunday called on Moore to exit the race and said that Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who lost to Moore in the GOP primary, would be a strong candidate for a write-in bid.

"This is a terrible situation. ... We’ll probably never know for sure exactly what happened," Toomey said on NBC’s Meet the Press. "But from my point of view ... I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial. I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a frequent Republican critic of Trump and his wing of the GOP, said the party "ought not to be for" Moore’s candidacy and also raised the possibility of a write-in candidacy."It’s just really a matter of whether he ought to be the candidate, the standard-bearer of the Republican Party. And I just think he shouldn’t be," Kasich said on ABC’s This Week.

Under Alabama law, Moore’s name cannot be removed from the ballot this close to the election, but the state GOP can petition to disqualify him. If Moore is disqualified or withdraws, votes for him would not be counted.

The remarks came after multiple Republican senators rescinded their endorsements of Moore and the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of a joint fundraising committee with him.

Some Republicans had hoped Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, R, who has called the allegations "deeply disturbing," would delay the election. But her staff told local media outlets over the weekend that it will take place as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Moore described the backlash as a political conspiracy among Democrats, establishment Republicans and the national media to keep him out of office.

"Why do they come now?" Moore said of the accusations, using parts of a statement he recited Saturday in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

"Because there are groups that don’t want me in the United States Senate. They’re desperate," he said.

It remains unclear whether the allegations will damage Moore’s campaign, although some signs over the weekend suggested it might.

Polls conducted after the Post published its article found that Moore’s small lead in the race against Democrat Doug Jones had been erased, with Alabama voters roughly split between the two. The results are tenuous, with polls using less expensive and reliable methodologies.

Representatives of the Trump administration appeared split on how to handle the situation.

Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said that Moore needs time to defend himself against the allegations and that Trump will look more closely at the issue after he returns from a trip to Asia.

"Roy Moore is somebody who graduated from West Point, he served our country in Vietnam, he’s been elected multiple times statewide in Alabama," Short said on Meet the Press. "The people in Alabama know Roy Moore better than we do here in D.C., and I think we have to be very cautious ... of allegations that are 40 years old that arise a month before Election Day."

In an interview on This Week, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway repeatedly declined to say whether she believes the allegations.

"I don’t know the accusers, and I don’t know Judge Moore. But I also want to make sure that we as a nation are not always prosecuting people through the press. He has denied the allegations," she said.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the allegations against Moore require a closer look.

"I’m not an expert on this issue, but what I would say is people should investigate this issue and get the facts," he said. "And if these allegations are true, then absolutely, this is incredibly inappropriate behavior."

Senate Democrats continued to wrestle with how to leverage the allegations — and what they might do if Moore becomes their colleague after the Dec. 12 special election.

On Meet the Press, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minn., floated the idea of expelling Moore from the Senate if he wins.

"We may not have much choice on that but we have choice on something else," said Klobuchar, who recently co-sponsored a bill requiring sexual harassment training for senators and their staff members. "That is that you can expel a senator once they are in with two-thirds of the vote after the ethics committee does an investigation."

But Richard Durbin, Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said that unseating a senator is "several steps removed from where we are today," arguing that Trump needs to "do more when it comes to this situation in Alabama."

Asked about Moore, Trump more recently has told reporters traveling with him in Asia that "I have not seen very much about him, about it."

"And, you know, I put out a statement yesterday that he’ll do the right thing," the president added.

After the allegations surfaced last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying that Trump "believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."

She also said "a mere allegation" should not "destroy a person’s life."

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