Uh oh: Moore accused of sexual encounter with 14-year-old in 1979; Update: McConnell, Shelby: If true, step aside; McCain: Never mind the 'if'

The special Senate election in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions took a dark twist today as a woman accused Republican nominee Roy Moore of sexual misconduct from almost 40 years ago. Leigh Corfman alleges in a Washington Post scoop that she first met Moore in 1979, when the 32-year-old prosecutor offered to keep an eye on the then-14-year-old while her mother attended a custody hearing. After gaining the trust of her mother and herself, Moore allegedly made his move a few days later:

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.

Two of Corfman’s childhood friends say she told them at the time that she was seeing an older man, and one says Corfman identified the man as Moore. Wells says her daughter told her about the encounter more than a decade later, as Moore was becoming more prominent as a local judge.

At that age by today’s legal standards, this would qualify as molestation whether or not the 14-year-old was willing; Alabama’s age of consent is 16, a common age for most states. Given the age disparity in this alleged encounter, it probably would have resulted in prosecution. That’s moot now, as it would be far past any statute of limitations for a prosecution, of course. That’s not the problem Moore faces, just as obviously — he’s got a political problem, and it’s no small matter.

Corfman isn’t the only woman found by the Post with stories to tell of Moore in that time frame. Three other women say that Moore asked them out on dates when they were in their later teens, but none of the others allege any non-consensual behavior:

Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older. None of the women say that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact.

Moore vehemently denies the story, telling Breitbart that it’s a smear. The campaign also pushed back against the allegations, noting that nothing like this emerged before even though Moore’s been a lightning rod for controversy for decades:

“These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign,” Moore said in a statement obtained by Breitbart News.

Separately, Moore’s campaign said in a statement, “This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.” …

“The Judge has been a candidate in four hotly-contested statewide political contests, twice as a gubernatorial candidate and twice as a candidate for chief justice.  He has been a three-time candidate for local office, and he has been a national figure in two ground-breaking, judicial fights over religious liberty and traditional marriage,” said the statement.

“After over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they surely would have been made public long before now.”

If Moore fights this — and he doesn’t have much choice — it will come down to a credibility fight. The Post anticipates this in its reporting, having checked to make sure none of the women have worked in competing campaigns. They also confirmed the court record of the child-custody hearing in that time frame, and report that none of the four women know each other:

Corfman described her story consistently in six interviews with The Post. The Post confirmed that her mother attended a hearing at the courthouse in February 1979 through divorce records. Moore’s office was down the hall from the courtroom.

Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don’t know one another.

So why now, if this is true? The exposés of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, and others might have shifted the ground enough for victims to feel comfortable with going public. Corfman has a self-admitted messy marital and financial history, which made it more difficult for her to believe she would be taken seriously. That may still become a problem, especially when people start asking why she and the others didn’t come forward during the primaries rather than the general election. American politics has a long history of dirty tricks, and both sides can dredge up enough examples to remind people to refrain from jumping to immediate conclusions.

Moore has a big problem, but has a month to figure it out before the December 12th election against Democrat Doug Jones. Prior to this allegation, RCP had his lead average at six points. If Moore can’t provide an effective rebuttal to the Post’s report — assuming he’s innocent in the first place — he won’t have to lose much ground to fall behind in a race Republicans should have been able to win with their eyes closed.

Lisa Murkowski says she’s “horrified” by the allegations, and that Moore should step aside if they’re true:

Jeff Flake concurs:

Assuming Moore steps down (which seems unlikely, given his response today), can the GOP replace him on the ticket? And if so, with whom? Luther Strange?

Update: Moore doesn’t have many defenders among Senate Republicans, although they’re still framing their responses with conditionals. Both Mitch McConnell and NRSC chair Cory Gardner want an immediate resolution, one way or the other:

And Moore’s Alabama colleague also wants no part of Moore, if true:

Allahpundit asks a good question — what is the standard for proof here? Bear in mind that this isn’t a legal question, but a political question. We’ll see how long the conditionals last.

Update: Well, one thing’s confirmed — Republicans are stuck with Moore whether he withdraws or not:

I’m not so sure that’ll stand. Remember the Lautenberg-for-Torricelli swaparoo that the courts endorsed in New Jersey?

Update: John McCain’s dispensing with conditionals: