Trump administration officials distance themselves from Roy Moore following sexual misconduct allegations

Steve Mnuchin on CNN.

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Steve Mnuchin on CNN.
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CNN

  • Trump surrogates said Roy Moore should drop out of the race if sexual misconduct allegations against him are true.
  • But they would not say whether the White House believed Moore’s accusers.

President Donald Trump’s surrogates are trying to tread a thin line on whether Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for Senate in Alabama, should step aside following allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old when he was in his 30s.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Moore instigated a sexual interaction with a 14-year-old girl and pursued relationships with multiple teenagers when he was in his 30s. With the special election to fill the senate seat vacated earlier this year by Attorney General Jeff Sessions exactly a month from Sunday, Moore has vehemently denied the accusations, casting them as a political hit job.

In interviews on the various Sunday political talk shows, Trump administration officials defended the White House position the White House position that Moore should drop out of the race if the allegations are accurate. But they also refused to acknowledge whether they believed the veracity of the Washington Post’s reporting.

Speaking with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said that there’s a “special place in hell” for child molesters, and said that Moore “has to do more explaining than he has done so far.”

But, he argued that the timing of the allegations made him think that “we here in Washington have to be careful as well in this.”

“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. “The people in Alabama know Roy Moore better than we do here in DC, and I think we have to be very cautious.”

Short did not answer whether Trump himself would intervene further to push Moore from the race, but said he was waiting for more evidence to emerge either vindicating Moore or further proving his potential guilt.

“There’s no Senate seat more important than the notion of child pedophilia Chuck, I mean that’s reality,” Short said. “But having said that, he has not been proven guilty. We have to afford him the chance to defend himself.”

Judge Roy Moore participates in the Mid-Alabama Republican Club's Veterans Day Program in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, U.S., November 11, 2017.

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Judge Roy Moore participates in the Mid-Alabama Republican Club’s Veterans Day Program in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, U.S., November 11, 2017.
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REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

A divided GOP

Others administration officials took similar positions without defending Moore.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “I only know what I see on TV and what I read in the paper,” but would not address whether he believed the former Alabama justice’s accusers.

“I’m not an expert on this issue, but what I would say is, people should investigate this issue and get the facts,” Mnuchin said when asked if Moore should step aside. “And if these allegations are true, absolutely. This is incredibly inappropriate behavior.”

In an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway dodged questions over whether she believed Moore’s accusers, saying that she while denounced Moore, “both sides are alleging different things here.”

“I know what I read,” Conway said. “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. I have read the stories. I have heard not the testimony and the evidence, but what people are saying publicly.”

At various points in the interview, she attempted to pivot to other negative stories about Democrats.

She bemoaned a perceived lack of coverage of Sen. Robert Menendez’ federal bribery trial, and alluded to decades-old allegations of improper sexual conduct by former President Bill Clinton.

“I denounce that conduct. And if the allegations are true, he should step aside. And if the allegations are true about a lot of people, they ought to step aside. And some of them are probably holding office right now.”

“You also can’t say whether you believe the accusers or not,” Raddatz acknowledged later in the interview. “You’re not going to go that far.”

Since the Washington Post story broke on Thursday, the GOP has been publicly divided over whether Moore should drop out of the special election.

Some prominent Republicans like former GOP presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain called for Moore to drop out of the race immediately.

But other prominent Republicans like former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon have voiced their continued support for Moore, comparing the allegations to the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump admitted to grabbing women without their permission.

“It’s interesting,” Bannon said this week. “The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore.”