Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore's campaign is pushing back on an allegation of sexual misconduct, suggesting that a yearbook inscription from one of his accusers was fabricated.
On Monday, Beverly Young Nelson, represented by famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred, said Moore groped her and tried to force himself on her in his car when she was 16 and he was in his 30s. As evidence that the two knew each other, Nelson presented an affectionate 1977 yearbook message.
On Wednesday, speaking outside the Alabama Republican Party headquarters, Moore campaign attorney Phillip Jauregui said he wants the yearbook released by Allred so that an independent handwriting analyst can determine the authenticity of the inscription.
"Release the yearbook so we can determine is it genuine or is it a fraud," Jauregui insisted.
But even without an independent analysis, the attorney cast doubt on the yearbook message, pointing out that Moore had been the judge assigned to Nelson's past divorce case. He suggested the "D.A." after Moore's name in the yearbook inscription — apparently an abbreviation for "district attorney," when Moore had, in fact, been an assistant district attorney at the time of the assault alleged by Nelson — was how Moore's assistant put her initials on an order in the divorce case roughly two decades later when Moore had become a judge.
Allred later told CNN that her client hoped to testify under oath before the Senate about her allegations against Moore.
The news conference was the latest attempt by Moore's campaign to stay viable given the mounting accusations against him and increasing loss of support from key figures in the GOP. It focused only on the allegation by Nelson and did not address the other allegations against Moore by other women, including Leigh Corfman who claims he initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14.
But minutes after the news conference ended, AL.com published new allegations against Moore from Tina Johnson, who said that in 1991, Moore, who was married and an attorney on a child custody transfer case involving Johnson, had come on to her and grabbed her buttocks. She was 28 at the time.
"He didn't pinch it; he grabbed it," Johnson said.
A second woman, Kelly Harrison Thorp, told AL.com that when she was a 17-year-old waitress in 1983, Moore asked her out and told her, "I go out with girls your age all the time." She turned him down.
On Tuesday evening, Fox News host Sean Hannity said he was giving the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice "24 hours" to explain inconsistencies in his pushback against allegations from five women that he sexually assaulted them or pursued them romantically when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
On Hannity's radio show last Friday, Moore gave conflicting answers about whether he knew some of the women who had come forward or whether he dated teenage girls, saying that "not generally, no" he did not date girls that young and that "I don't remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother."
But in light of new evidence, Hannity, who has frequently championed Moore's candidacy, said Tuesday evening on his television show that Moore "must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed."
"You must remove any doubt. If he can't do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race."
Jauregi's comments Wednesday appeared to be a response to Hannity's ultimatum. And hours after the press conference, Moore's campaign released a letter they had sent to Hannity reiterating much of what his attorney had said at the press conference.
"I adamantly deny the allegations of Leigh Corfman and Beverly Nelson, did not date underage girls, and have taken steps to begin a civil action for defamation," Moore wrote. "Because of that, at the direction of counsel, I cannot comment further."
AL.com reported that Moore was known to cruise for young girls at the local mall in his hometown of Gadsden. A man who worked at the mall in the early 1980s told CNN that Moore had been banned from the mall because "he was bothering girls in the mall."
The Republican National Committee severed a fundraising agreement with Moore's campaign on Tuesday night, and Politico reported the RNC has also canceled a field program on behalf of the GOP nominee ahead of the Dec. 12 special election, where Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones.
GOP congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have called for Moore to step aside, but he has remained defiant. There is no way to remove Moore's name from the ballot at this point, so McConnell and others have talked up backing a write-in candidate — possibly appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the September GOP runoff, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Moore is running to succeed.
Alabama's senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, told reporters on Capitol Hill that he won't vote for Moore and would write in a name, calling Sessions an "ideal candidate."
President Trump, who backed Strange in the primary, just returned from his trip to Asia and could weigh in on Moore further. Asked Saturday while in Vietnam about the allegations against Moore, Trump said he hadn't paid much attention to the news and "have to look at it and I'd have to see."
A new poll conducted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows that Moore now trails Jones by 12 points — reflecting a 12-point drop in support for Moore since before the scandal broke. Moore's favorability has also cratered, with just 35 percent of likely voters surveyed holding a favorable opinion of the GOP nominee and 52 percent having an unfavorable opinion. The NRSC has already pulled financial support from Moore. Politico first reported on the poll, and NPR obtained the survey from a GOP source.
That poll gives a more generous lead to Jones than other recent surveys have in the wake of the scandal; some still show Moore with a lead.
Moore's campaign has continued to hit back at the allegations that were first reported in the The Washington Post last week, painting his candidacy as a battle against the Washington, D.C., establishment that has turned against him.
And on Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC, his attorney Trenton Garmon addressed the allegations — which Moore has given conflicting answers about — that he did date teenage girls and got permission from their mothers to do so.
"In other countries, there's arrangement through parents for what we would refer to as consensual marriage," Garmon said, after referencing MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi's "diverse background" and implying he might understand that.
"What does Ali's background have to do with dating a 14-year-old?" MSNBC co-host Stephanie Ruhle retorted, defending Velshi, who was born in Kenya but raised in Canada.
There have also been reports of robocalls from someone named "Bernie Bernstein" purporting to be a Washington Post reporter seeking damaging information on Moore in exchange for thousands of dollars. There is no Post reporter by that name.