COVINGTON, Ga. — U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has withdrawn his endorsement of the Alabama Senate candidate accused of inappropriate contact with teenage girls in the 1970s.
Hice, R-Ga., earlier endorsed Republican nominee Roy Moore in a special election for a U.S. Senate seat, saying the former Alabama chief justice would be “such an ally” to fellow members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.
“As someone with daughters of my own, I steadfastly believe that anyone engaging in the behavior that has been alleged against Roy Moore is in the wrong,” Hice said in a statement to The Covington News on Wednesday.
Moore was the odds-on favorite to win the Dec. 12 special election in Alabama, where a Senate seat became vacant when President Donald Trump appointed then-Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
But The Washington Post reported Thursday four women Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 14 and 18 and he was a prosecutor in his early 30s. None said he forced them into sexual contact, but one, Leigh Corfman, said Moore took off her shirt and pants, removed his clothes, touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand over his underwear.
A fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, came forward Monday to say she was the victim of a sexual assault by Moore when she was a 16-year-old waitress at a Gadsden, Alabama, restaurant. Nelson was a classmate of Kayla Kisor, who later married Moore.
Moore has denied sexual misconduct.
National Republican leaders have begun to retreat from Moore and consider all options to prevent the Senate seat from going to Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. Alabama hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate since Howell Heflin’s retirement in 1997. Moore could be expelled from the Senate if he wins the election.
Hice said he’s troubled by Moore’s explanations of the allegations against him in the past week.
“Without question, it is reprehensible to mistreat women under ANY circumstances,” Hice said. “While I believe, in the interest of fairness, it must be noted that allegations do not equal guilt, I am not going to pretend to be judge and jury about what did or didn’t happen with Judge Moore over 40 years ago.
“However, based on the inconsistencies in his explanations regarding the allegations, I cannot continue to support his candidacy. The special election for the United States Senate in Alabama is ultimately up to the people of Alabama to decide.”
But in September, Hice and other members of the House Freedom Caucus urged Alabamians to send Moore to Washington.
“Judge Moore has shown he has the strength to stand for principle, regardless of personal cost,” HIce said in a statement before Moore’s victory in the Republican runoff against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange.
“Men like that are rare, and much needed in Washington.”
Moore has been twice removed from the position of chief justice in Alabama — in 2003 for his failure to remove a 2-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state judicial building, and last year for his failure to comply with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.
Moore came to prominence as a circuit court judge in Gadsden, when he refused to remove a hand-carved Ten Commandments marker from his courtroom despite pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Hice, a Baptist minister, founded a group called Ten Commandments – Georgia Inc. after the ACLU sued the Barrow County Board of Commissioners in 2003 over the county’s display of the Ten Commandments.
“Jody Hice is a stalwart defender of faith and freedom,” Moore said in the news release announcing Hice’s endorsement.
“I appreciate his support and his leadership in acknowledging God in the public square. I look forward to working with him and other like-minded members of Congress to push back against the forces that tear at the fabric of our nation.”
AL.com reported the Moore campaign removed a list of endorsements from its website, although the campaign Facebook page still showed past endorsements from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky.; and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.