Trump Officials Urge Caution on Judging Roy Moore as Senators Pull Support

Officials said that Mr. Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused of pursuing romantic relationships with teenagers, should be allowed to defend himself against the allegations.

Top Trump administration officials cautioned Sunday that Roy S. Moore, the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama, should be allowed to defend himself against allegations that he pursued sexual and romantic relationships with teenage girls, even as Senate Republicans appeared to have largely abandoned his candidacy.

And Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, said he expected that President Trump would give the matter more attention when he returns from an extended trip through Asia 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,” Mr. Short said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The accusations against Mr. Moore have consumed political circles from Alabama to Washington since Thursday, when The Washington Post published the accounts of four women accusing Mr. Moore of misconduct. Senate Republicans have made their stance relatively clear, pulling out of a joint fund-raising agreement with Mr. Moore’s campaign and rescinding endorsements in the days since the allegations came to light.

With Mr. Trump away, the White House’s position has been less decisive. But on Sunday, administration officials found Mr. Trump’s absence brought them little reprieve from answering questions about the claims, which Mr. Moore has repeatedly denied.

“There’s no Senate seat more important than the notion of child pedophilia,” said Mr. Short, Mr. Trump’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill “But having said that, he has not been proven guilty. And we have to afford him the chance to defend himself.”

“If more evidence comes out that can prove that he did this, then sure, by all means he should be disqualified,” Mr. Short added. “But that’s a huge if.”

Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the conduct as described was “disqualifying” but that judgment should not be rendered based on a single news article.

“I only know what I read,” Ms. Conway said. “And I take very seriously allegations like this, particularly when they involve somebody who happened to be one of my daughters’ ages.”

But, she added,“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.”

The accusations against Mr. Moore were made on the record by four women. They included that he molested a 14-year-old girl, Leigh Corfman, when he was 32 and pursued relationships with three other teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Mr. Moore has remained defiant in the face of those accounts, seeking to discredit the women and accusing them of speaking out so close to an election to try to sink his candidacy.

On Sunday, Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, joined a small contingent urging fellow Republicans to consider supporting a write-in candidate to challenge Mr. Moore. During an appearance on “Meet the Press,” Mr. Toomey said Senator Luther Strange, who lost to Mr. Moore in Alabama’s Republican primary race this fall, would be a strong challenger again.

And Mr. Toomey left open the possibility that Senate Republicans could refuse to seat Mr. Moore should he win.

“We’ll probably never know for sure exactly what happened,” he said. “But from my point of view, you know, I have to say, I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial. I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside.”

Democrats have been happy to sit back and watch Republicans tie themselves in knots over what to do about Mr. Moore. On Sunday, they sought to keep pressure on Republican leaders, starting with Mr. Trump.

“President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party in America,” Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said on CNN. “It’s his responsibility to step forward and say more and do more.”

In a statement last week, Mr. Trump said Mr. Moore should resign if the allegations were true, but he has subsequently shown little interest in intervening, at least while he is still abroad.

“I have not seen very much about him, about it,” he told reporters as he flew to Hanoi, Vietnam, over the weekend.

“Honestly, I’d have to look at it and I’d have to see,” Mr. Trump said, when pressed about the allegations. “I’m dealing with the folks over here, so I haven’t devoted — I haven’t been able to devote very much time to it.”

And as some Republicans spoke of a write-in campaign, Democrats were also eager to remind voters that they had another alternative: their nominee, Doug Jones, a Birmingham prosecutor.