Senior White House aide: Give Roy Moore more time to defend himself

Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at an event Saturday in Birmingham. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

A senior aide to President Trump said Sunday that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore needs to be given time to defend himself against allegations that he pursued sexual or romantic relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s and that Trump would look more closely at the issue after returning from a trip to Asia.

“There’s no Senate seat more important than the notion of child pedophilia,” Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I mean that’s reality. But having said that, he has not been proven guilty. We have to afford him the chance to defend himself.”

Short noted that Moore this week “plans to come forward with more evidence to support his innocence.”

Short was among several senior Trump administration officials who hedged their comments about the Republican Senate hopeful during appearances on Sunday talk shows. A Washington Post report last week detailed the stories of four women who said Moore had pursued relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, including one, Leigh Corfman, who said Moore undressed himself and touched her over her underwear when she was 14 and he was 32.

Moore has vigorously denied the allegations, calling them “fake news.”

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning, White house counselor Kellyanne Conway emphasized that if Moore did what he is accused of doing, he should step aside from his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions (R) after he became Trump’s attorney general.

But Conway repeatedly declined to say whether she believed the accusations against Moore.

“Let me ask you again: Do you have any doubt about the veracity of the accusations?” ABC News host Martha Raddatz asked.

“Martha, I only know what I read,” Conway responded, “and I take very seriously allegations like this, particularly when they involved somebody who happens to be one of my daughter’s ages.”

Raddatz interrupted: “So you believe these …”

“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.”

When asked by Raddatz what “standard of proof” Conway would accept for her to advise Trump to call for Moore to step aside, Conway again noted that Moore is not on trial.

“It would be a very dangerous precedent for any of us, for any person in this country, to just be cast aside as guilty because of press reports,” Conway 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.”

Asked by host Jake Tapper whether he believes the allegations, Mnuchin said, “It appears that there is a significant issue here that needs to be addressed.”

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.”

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.

Short said Trump would focus more on the Alabama race when he returns to Washington later this week.

“I think the president’s obviously on a very important trip, and when he returns, I think we’ll have that conversation,” Short told host Chuck Todd. “But I think that people here in this town have an inflated view of what our views are. And it’s important for the people of Alabama to be allowed the chance to discern the truth here and make the right decision.”

“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 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.”

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