New twists in Roy Moore scandal: Lawyer hits back, more accusers emerge, state party huddles
New twists and turns emerged in the Alabama Senate race Wednesday as an attorney for Roy Moore questioned the motives of one accuser, the state Republican Party huddled to discuss its support of Moore and three more females surfaced to allege past sexual misconduct.
Speaking to reporters in Birmingham on Wednesday, attorney Phillip L. Jauregui demanded that a handwriting expert be allowed to review the yearbook that accuser Beverly Young Nelson held up as evidence that Moore sought a sexual relationship with her when she was 16.
“Release the yearbook so that we can determine is it genuine, or is it a fraud,” Jauregui said outside the Alabama Republican Party headquarters.
Meanwhile, three more women acccused Moore of inappropriate behavior. Tina Johnson of Gadsden claimed in a story published Wednesday afternoon by an Alabama news outlet that Moore groped her buttocks in 1991.
“He didn’t pinch it; he grabbed it,” Johnson told AL.com, the website for the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Mobile Press-Register.
Late Wednesday, the Washington Post published accounts by two more women who claimed Moore accosted them in the late-1970s, when Moore was an assistant district attorney in his early 30s.
One of the women, Gena Richardson, told the Post that when she refused to give Moore her phone number, he called her high school to ask her out on a date. She eventually agreed to go out with Moore and said he ended the date by giving her a “forceful” kiss.
The other woman, then-22-year-old Becky Gray, said that Moore repeatedly asked her out and lingered near her in a way that made her uncomfortable. When she complained to her manager, she was told it was “not the first time he had a complaint about [Moore] hanging out at the mall.”
Also Wednesday night, the Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee held a meeting to discuss its next steps amid the growing scandal.
One Alabama Republican source said it was likely the committee would issue “a statement of support” for Moore and would not abandon his candidacy, even as senior Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said he would not vote for Moore anymore.
The Moore campaign didn’t immediately comment on the latest allegation. But the candidate has adamantly denied the other accusations, calling them a “desperate political attack.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Moore’s attorney suggested Nelson may have an ax to grind with Moore. The campaign distributed documents to reporters indicating Moore was the judge in her 1999 divorce case in Etowah County.
Nelson, appearing with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred during a Monday press conference, accused Moore of sexual misconduct while she was 16 and working at a restaurant in the 1970s.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that he pursued relationships with four teenage women dating back to the 1970s when he was in his early thirties and single. One woman told the paper she was 14 when the 32-year-old Moore asked her out and made sexual advances.
“When these allegations came out within the last week it was incredibly, incredibly, painful for him, his wife, his mom, his daughter, his grandchildren,” Jauregui said.
An avalanche of national Republicans have called on Moore to drop out of the race in recent days.
Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have explored options for removing Moore as the Republican nominee.
But after a speech on his recent trip to Asia, President Trump didn’t respond to shouted questions Wednesday from a reporter about whether he thinks Moore should step down.
Also Wednesday, Fox News’ Sean Hannity did not ask Moore to quit the race after giving the Republican 24 hours to sufficiently explain himself at the close of Tuesday’s broadcast.
“The people of Alabama deserve to have a fair choice, especially in light of the new allegations tonight,” Hannity said. “I am very confident that when everything comes out, they will make the best decision for their state. It shouldn’t be decided by me, by people on television, by Mitch McConnell, Washington, talk show hosts [or] newspeople.”
In response to Hannity’s ultimatum, Moore had released an open letter to the Fox News host.
“Are we at a stage in American politics in which false allegations can overcome a public record of 40 years, stampede the media and politicians to condemn an innocent man, and potentially impact the outcome of an election of national importance?” he wrote.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told Fox News’ Shannon Bream on “Fox News @ Night” on Monday that the Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee could vote to “disassociate themselves from Judge Moore and his candidacy and indicate that he is no longer their nominee.”
“That has to be done in a formal way,” Merrill said Monday. “It would also indicate to us at that point in time that he would no longer be their representative, even though his name would still be on the ballot.”
A new statewide poll in Alabama, commissioned by Fox10 in Mobile, shows that despite the controversy, Moore still leads Democratic nominee Doug Jones 49 percent to 43 percent with 8 percent undecided.
But a poll conducted and released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows Moore trailing his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, by 12 points. The NRSC has pulled its support from the race and its chairman has called on Moore to drop out of the contest.
Some Republicans have been attempting to nudge Attorney General Jeff Sessions back into his old Senate seat. McConnell, who has also called for Moore to withdraw from the race, said Tuesday “it appears as if the only option would be a write-in.”
Floating Sessions, McConnell said the name “most often discussed may not be available, but the Alabamian who would fit that standard would be the attorney general, who is totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama.”
But a source close to Sessions told Fox News this week the attorney general is not interested in leaving the Department of Justice to return to his old seat.
On Tuesday, the Republican National Committee dropped out of a joint fundraising agreement with Moore’s campaign and pulled its field staffers out of the race.
The special election is set for Dec. 12.
Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.