Sean Hannity gave Roy Moore 24 hours to “remove any doubt” about allegations that he pursued teenage girls while in his 30s, making unwanted sexual contact with two. “If you can’t do this,” Hannity said on Tuesday, “then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race.”

By the time the deadline arrived on Wednesday night, Moore had not cleared his name. The best defense the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama could muster was a demand, made by his attorney at a news conference, that his apparent signature in the high school yearbook of one accuser be examined by a handwriting expert to determine its authenticity.

Meanwhile, three more women came forward with claims that Moore made overtures when they were teenagers, bringing the total to eight. Another woman accused Moore of groping her when she was 28.

Yet Hannity lost his nerve, telling viewers on Wednesday that Moore’s fitness for office “shouldn’t be decided by me.” Hannity declined to say whether he believes Moore or his accusers and did not call for the former Alabama chief justice to exit the race, even though Moore failed to “remove any doubt” within the 24-hour window.

Instead, Hannity devoted most of his program to rehashing accusations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton.

In a sign of Hannity’s perceived influence among conservative voters, Moore made a direct, written appeal to the Fox News host before Wednesday’s show. It was clearly important to Moore that he not lose Hannity’s support or, at minimum, not turn Hannity into a harsh critic.

“I think that Roy Moore’s fate lies in your hands,” Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera told Hannity on Wednesday’s program.

Hannity read Moore’s letter in full, on the air.

In the letter, Moore again raised questions about the yearbook signature. Hannity on Tuesday had acknowledged that some of Moore’s defenders are skeptical of its legitimacy but nevertheless said he would abandon the former Alabama chief justice, absent a “satisfactory explanation” to refute the allegations.

Hannity said he was bothered by his Friday radio interview of Moore, in which Moore contradicted himself. At one point, Moore said four women’s claims of inappropriate overtures, published in The Washington Post a day earlier, are “completely false”; at another point, however, he indicated that he might have tried to date teenage girls when he was in his 30s, as the women allege.

“If I did, you know, I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that,” Moore told Hannity, adding, “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

Hannity told his viewers on Tuesday that Moore’s responses “seemed inconsistent, and a lot of other people saw the same thing.”

“I looked at the handwriting, and I know some people on Twitter have said things about this,” Hannity said. “Here’s where I am tonight, between this interview that I did and the inconsistent answers, between him saying, ‘I never knew this girl,’ and then that yearbook comes out: For me, the judge has 24 hours. He must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed you. You must remove any doubt. If you can’t do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race.”

Whether the yearbook-signature defense suddenly seemed stronger a day later or something else made Hannity reconsider, the host went soft on Wednesday when he refused to take a position one way or the other.