Trump again backs alleged harasser, Democrat gives up key post

US President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him and repeatedly insisting voters must not support Moore's "liberal" rival. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)
US President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him and repeatedly insisting voters must not support Moore's "liberal" rival. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

Washington - US President Donald Trump on Sunday redoubled his support for embattled Senate candidate Roy Moore, ignoring the sexual harassment allegations plaguing the ex-Alabama judge's campaign, as Democrats moved to address harassment concerns afflicting their own party.

In an early-morning tweet, Trump said that Moore's rival in the Alabama race for a Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones, was weak on crime, the military and immigration. For Alabamians to support him in next month's special election, the president said, "would be a disaster!"

Many members of Trump's Republican Party have withdrawn support for Moore, who is now 70, following multiple allegations that while in his 30s he molested or harassed teenage girls as young as 14.

Allegations of sexual harassment have plagued both of America's main political parties in recent weeks.

Democrat John Conyers, a celebrated civil rights leader who is the longest-serving member of Congress, announced he was stepping down from a leadership position as he battles similar claims.

Even while denying the allegations, the 88-year-old said he was leaving his post as ranking member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee – but remaining in Congress – while he seeks vindication before the House Ethics Committee.

Ethics Committee leaders said on Tuesday they planned to investigate allegations that Conyers, a 27-term legislator who co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus, had sexually harassed staff members and used official resources "for impermissible personal purposes".

Demand to 'step aside'

Swirling allegations of sexual misconduct have derailed high-profile careers in the entertainment and media industries and are now jolting the political world after a deluge of claims against one-time Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

They have sparked angry demands from both political friend and foe that the alleged perpetrators step aside.

Some leading Republicans have suggested that Moore, if elected, should not be allowed to take his Senate seat.

Most prominently, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has called for Moore to drop out of the race altogether, saying: "I believe the women."

Losing proposition

McConnell reportedly has pleaded with Trump to stay out of the Alabama race, lest Moore's election damage the party ahead of next year's midterm elections.

One prominent Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said that having Moore on the ballot was a losing proposition.

"If he wins... it becomes a story every day about whether or not you believe the women or Roy Moore. If you lose, you give the Senate seat" to a Democrat, he told CNN.

But Trump – himself the object of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct during his presidential campaign, all of which he denied – shrugged off such appeals.

He tweeted that "the last thing" Republicans need in the closely divided Senate is a Democrat like Jones "who is WEAK on Crime, WEAK on the Border. Bad for our Military" and who "WANTS TO RAISES (sic) TAXES TO THE SKY."

"He says it didn't happen," the president told reporters on Tuesday. "You have to listen to him, also."

'Not a license for harassment'

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said that Conyers deserved "due process" in the coming inquiry, calling him "an icon" who had done much to advance women's causes.

But she later tweeted, in a statement about Conyers's decision, that "no matter how great an individual's legacy, it is not a license for harassment."

Legislators have struggled with how to react to allegations against fellow party members.

Pelosi suggested that separate allegations against Democrat Al Franken – including that the Minnesota senator once kissed a woman against her will – were less serious than those against Moore.

Asked if she would be satisfied were Franken to apologise, Pelosi told "Meet the Press" on NBC: "Right. Also, his accusers have to accept an apology. The victims have some say."

In his latest comments on the uproar, Franken called the photograph that appeared to show him groping a fellow comic's breasts in 2006, before he was a politician, "inexcusable".

"I am ashamed of that photo," Franken told Minnesota Public Radio. "You know she didn't have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo."

"I'm going to take responsibility. I'm going to be held accountable and I'm going to try to be productive in the way I speak about this," he added, vowing to return to work.

"This has been a shock to me."

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