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White House struggles to explain Trump’s silence on Moore allegations

President Trump is ignoring the women who have accused him and Senate candidate Roy Moore of harassment or assault, but attacking Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Amid a growing number of sexual harassment allegations against Roy Moore, White House officials tried to walk a fine line — acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations without outright calling for the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama to step down.

Nine women have accused Moore of a range of inappropriate conduct, including pursuing them when they were teenagers, groping and assault.

President Trump — not usually one for holding his fire — has not tweeted or spoken publicly about Moore since The Washington Post first reported on the accusations against him. His sole comment on the subject came through White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said earlier this month that Trump believes that “if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” Later, Trump told reporters, “I’ll stick with my statement for now, but I’ll have further comment as we go down the road.”

On Sunday, asked about why the president has not condemned Moore, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Trump wanted to leave the decision to Alabama voters.

Trump’s reaction stands in stark contrast to his tweets about Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), which came within hours of Franken’s acknowledgment of sexual misconduct toward Los Angeles radio host Leann Tweeden years ago. Why the different response?

“Franken admits it, and Roy Moore denies it,” Mulvaney said.

“Do you believe that the women who have come out against Roy Moore are credible?” Mitchell asked.

“I believe they’re credible. I don’t know who to believe,” Mulvaney said.

“But if they’re credible, why wouldn’t you believe them?”

“Andrea, I run the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C.” Mulvaney replied, suggesting that neither he nor a Washington journalist like Mitchell could judge the situation from 700 miles away.

“Some of the stories were brought out by Alabama journalists,” Mitchell pointed out.

Mulvaney repeated himself: “Folks who vote in the Alabama election can ultimately decide.”

Over on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short repeatedly dodged similar questions. He said that the White House has “serious concerns” about the allegations but that voters in Alabama should be the ones to decide.

When Stephanopoulos asked whether Trump believed Moore’s accusers, Short said: “If he did not believe that the women’s accusations were credible, he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore. He has not done that.”

Several Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky), have called for Moore to drop out of the race. On Sunday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) added himself to that list.

“The allegations are stronger than the denial, and Roy Moore should find something else to do,” Scott said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added: “Which is my way of suggesting he should not be in the race.”