Politics

President Trump gives de facto endorsement of Roy Moore

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump discounted allegations of sexual assault against Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and said Tuesday that voters should not support Moore’s ‘‘liberal’’ rival.

Trump addressed the swirling controversy surrounding Moore for the first time since top Republican leaders called on Moore to step aside more than a week ago.

‘‘We don’t need a liberal person in there,’’ Trump said of Moore’s rival, Democrat Doug Jones. ‘‘We don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime like Jones.’’

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Trump said he will announce next week whether he will campaign on Moore’s behalf. Trump spoke to reporters Tuesday at the White House before leaving for a Thanksgiving break at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

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Six women have accused the Republican Moore of pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s. Two have accused him of assault or molestation. Moore has denied the allegations.

Trump dismissed questions from reporters about him backing a man accused of sexual assault over a man who is a Democrat. He pointed to Moore’s assertion that the candidate did nothing wrong.

‘‘Roy Moore denies it, that’s all I can say,’’ Trump said. ‘‘He denies it.’’

He also noted that the allegations came from behavior alleged to have happened decades ago.

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‘‘Forty years is a long time,’’ Trump said, questioning why it took so long for Moore’s accusers to come forward.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both Republicans, have both called on Moore to leave the race in light of the accusations. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have pulled their support for Moore’s campaign.

The special election for the Alabama Senate seat is Dec. 12.

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The following is a transcript of Trump speaking to reporters before boarding Marine One:

Q Mr. President, are you ready to talk about Roy Moore at all?

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THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I’ll be talking about him. I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat -- Jones. I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military. I can tell you for a fact, we do not need somebody that’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the Second Amendment.

Q Is Roy Moore, a child molester, better than a Democrat? He’s an accused --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen. So, you know --

Q Are you going to campaign for Roy Moore?

THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be letting you know next week. But I can tell you, you don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime, like Jones.

Q Mr. President, what is your message to women, sir, during this pivotal moment in our country where we’re talking about sexual misconduct? You’ve had your own allegations against you. What do you say to women?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That’s all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it.

Q Mr. President, what is your message to women? This is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history.

THE PRESIDENT: Women are very special. I think it’s a very special time because 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.

Q Should Al Franken resign now?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know -- look, I don’t want to speak for Al Franken. I don’t know what happened.

Q What about John Conyers?

THE PRESIDENT: I just heard about Conyers two minutes ago.

As far as Franken is concerned, he’s going to have to speak for himself. I’d rather have him speak for himself.

Q What did you say to Vladimir Putin, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: We had a great call with President Putin. We’re talking about peace in Syria -- very important. We’re talking about North Korea. We had a call that lasted almost an hour and a half. We’ve just put out a release on the call. But we’re talking very strongly about bringing peace for Syria. We’re talking about very strongly about North Korea and Ukraine.

Q The AT&T-Time Warner merger, sir -- what do you think about it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m not going to get involved in litigation. But, personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country. I think your pricing is going to go up. I don’t think it’s a good deal for the country. But I’m not going to get involved. It’s litigation.

Thank you, everybody. Have a very great Thanksgiving.

Q Do you believe Roy Moore’s denials? Do you believe him?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He’s run eight races, and this has never comes up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters; most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do. He totally denies it.

Q Mr. President, do you believe Congress should release the names of lawmakers who have settled on sexual harassment claims?

THE PRESIDENT: I do. I really do. I think they should. Thank you. Have a good Thanksgiving, everybody.