Republican senators are calling for the party’s Senate candidate Roy Moore to withdraw from a special election in Alabama if an allegation of a sexual encounter with an underage teen proves to be true.
“If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a formal statement on behalf of all Republican senators.
Mr McConnell and his team are said to have spent the morning figuring out how to deal with the extensive report by the Washington Post alleging that Mr Moore had contact with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Mr Moore, now 70, has denied the allegations. He has not yet responded to a request to comment from The Independent, but told the Post: “These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign,”
The campaign said in a subsequent statement that if the allegations were true they would have surfaced during his previous campaigns, adding “this garbage is the very definition of fake news.”
Mr Moore’s campaign said that he was the victim of a “systematic campaign to distort the truth about the Judge’s record and career and derail his campaign.”
Of the four women the Post interviewed, only one said she had sexual contact with Mr Moore that went beyond kissing. She says she was 14 at the time and that they did not have intercourse. The three other women said Mr Moore had contact with them when they were between 16 and 18 years old, though none said they had sexual contact with him.
Senator John McCain called on Mr Moore to “immediately” step aside and “allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of.” Other Republicans said that he ought to do so if the allegations are “found to be true”.
“The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling,” Senator Cory Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement. “If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election.”
Under Alabama state law, the ballot cannot be changed within 76 days of an election, according to the Post. The election is scheduled for December 12.
However, a candidate can still withdraw, or a state party can request a state judge or the secretary of state to disqualify a candidate from the race, the newspaper added.
The 70-year-old former judge, who was twice elected to and twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, has been a controversial figure in the past.
Mr Moore, known for making strong anti-gay and anti-Muslim comments, had not been Mr McConnell’s first choice to be the Republican candidate in Alabama’s special senatorial election.
Mr McConnell and other establishment Republicans – as well as Donald Trump – had backed Luther Strange, who had been selected to fill the Senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions became Attorney General.
According to Politico reporter Anthony Adragna, Senator Lisa Murkowsk said she has spoken to Mr Strange about running a write-in campaign.
While on the campaign trail to defeat Mr Strange, Mr Moore – supported by ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon – said Mr McConnell was an obstacle to a more conservative agenda.