Several Republicans on Thursday urged their party's candidate for a vacant US Senate seat to quit the race if an explosive report that he had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl is true.
Four women, speaking on the record, told The Washington Post that Roy Moore of Alabama pursued them when they were 18 or younger and he was in his early thirties working as an assistant district attorney.
According to the Post, Leigh Corfman, now 53, said when she was 14 Moore took her into his house in the woods near Gadsden, Alabama, removed her shirt and pants, and fondled her over her bra and underpants.
Moore guided her to touch him over his "tight" white underwear, she said.
"I wasn't ready for that," Corfman told the Post.
Moore, who is 70, married for three decades, and the father of four, denied any sexual impropriety. His campaign called the Post story "fake news."
"After over 40 years of public service (by Moore), if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now," the Moore campaign said in an email to supporters.
Moore, an anti-establishment conservative and former judge, and Democrat Doug Jones face off in a special Senate election December 12 to replace Jeff Sessions, who is now US attorney general.
The stunning accusations by the four women reverberated through Washington.
"If these allegations are true, he must step aside," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. At least a dozen other Republicans followed suit.
Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, immediately declared the allegations "disqualifying" for Moore.
"He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of," McCain said.
But in Alabama, state auditor Jim Zeigler brushed off the bombshell allegations, telling the Washington Examiner "there is nothing to see here" -- and referencing the Bible as a defense.
"Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus," Zeigler told the conservative news outlet. "There's just nothing immoral or illegal here."
"Maybe just a little bit unusual."
Experts have told US media that Alabama's Republican Party or Moore himself could withdraw his name from consideration.
How that happens remained unclear. Alabama law prohibits replacement of a candidate up to 76 days before the election, meaning Moore's name will likely be on the ballot when Alabamians vote next month.
The natural replacement would be Luther Strange, the incumbent senator appointed to succeed Sessions, and whom Moore defeated in the party's September primary.
- Hugging and kissing -
The Post said it interviewed more than 30 people, including mothers and friends of the girls.
It detailed how Gloria Thacker Deason was 18 in 1979 when she and 32-year-old Moore began going on dates where they hugged and kissed, she told the Post.
Wendy Miller said Moore, in the presence of her mother, asked her out on dates when she was 16. Her mother said no, and Miller said she realized years later that the idea of a grown man wanting to date a teenager was "disgusting."
The particulars about Moore's relationship with Corfman, then 14, were the most alarming.
"I wasn't ready for that -- I had never put my hand on a man's penis, much less an erect one," Corfman said.
Moore could have faced prison time, but the statute of limitations has expired, the Post reported.
Moore had a controversial career as a judge, notably for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments in his court house.
"We are in the midst of a spiritual battle," he said in a fundraising email after the Post story broke.