Roy Moore’s story is unraveling.

Roy Moore’s Story Is Unraveling

Roy Moore’s Story Is Unraveling

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 7 2017 8:06 PM

Roy Moore’s Story Is Unraveling

The Alabama Senate candidate knew his accusers, until he didn’t.

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Roy Moore pauses while speaking during a news conference on Nov. 16 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A month ago, when Roy Moore was accused of having pursued teenage girls while in his 30s, he equivocated. “Do you remember dating girls that young?” Sean Hannity asked him. Moore hedged: “Not generally, no. If I did, you know, I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that.” Hannity asked Moore about Debbie Gibson, who said she had dated Moore when she was 17 and he was 34. “I don’t remember going out on dates,” said Moore. “I knew her as a friend. If we did go out on dates, then we did.”

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Moore’s uncertainty troubled voters and Republican politicians. Some said his denials weren’t “strong” enough. So Moore tightened his story. On Nov. 27, he declared: “I do not know any of these women.” Two days later, he insisted: “I do not know any of these women, did not date any of these women.” Moore began to accuse the women of fabrication, malice, immorality, and political gamesmanship.

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This counterattack may have saved Moore’s candidacy. He has given his fans what they crave: a crusade against evil. He has also impressed President Trump, earning Trump’s endorsement and aid from the Republican National Committee. “Roy Moore denies it,”’ Trump told reporters on Nov. 21. “He totally denies it.”

But the harder line comes at a cost: It’s demonstrably false. Moore knows these women, and they have evidence to prove it. If Moore is fully investigated by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, he’ll be exposed not just as a former predator, but as a current slanderer.

On Nov. 21, in an interview with Scott Beason on the Alabama Cable Network, Moore said his accusers weren’t just mistaken about what had happened to them or who had done it. He said the incidents they described had “never occurred” and were “made up.” On Nov. 27, Moore called their accusations “malicious.” On Nov. 29, he falsely implied that they had agreed to appear in TV ads against him, proving that they weren’t real victims:

As a former prosecutor, judge, and chief justice, I’ve handled numerous rape cases, abuse cases, and sexual misconduct cases. And I have never had one victim in any of those cases who would come after 40 years, only two and a half weeks out of a general election, to appear in public political advertisements. It just doesn’t happen.
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On Monday, in an interview on American Family Radio, Moore added that Beverly Nelson, who had accused him of forcibly groping her when she was 16, knew her account was false. Moore said her story was “made up just to defame my character.” He said of the accusations against him: “It just shows you how immorality permeates every aspect of our society.”

Moore’s surrogates, following his cue, have piled on. In national TV interviews, Moore’s spokeswoman, Janet Porter, has called Nelson a “fraud” and “the yearbook forger lady.” Porter says another accuser, Leigh Corfman, gave “an Academy Award performance” when she described on NBC how Moore had molested her at the age of 14. Another Moore supporter, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, calls Nelson “a liar” and claims that she “suppressed the evidence” involved in her story.

These attacks look forceful, but they expose Moore to investigation for an ongoing pattern of lies. On Nov. 21, Moore said Nelson knew she “had a divorce filed before me” when he was a circuit judge in 1999 and that she was therefore lying when she claimed not to have had any contact with him since 1978. (“Everybody in a divorce case knows who the judge is,” Moore told Beason.) Moore asserted that the case “came to me, and after several months … she asked for it to be dismissed.” This account by Moore is demonstrably false. Court records show that the case was before another judge, that Nelson asked that judge to delay a hearing, and that five weeks later, when Nelson asked the court to dismiss the case, Moore’s assistant stamped Moore’s name on the dismissal order, as a formality, only because he was the circuit judge.

On Nov. 15, after Nelson displayed her 1977 high school yearbook with an inscription apparently by Moore, he suggested that someone had “tampered” with the inscription, noting that the date and location information appended to it were written in a different style. But soon, Moore’s surrogates began to allege that the whole inscription was a forgery. On Nov. 28, Brooks said Nelson had “forged the ‘Love, Roy Moore’ part” of the inscription—precisely the part that Moore hadn’t initially challenged, since it obviously matched Moore’s handwriting on other documents. Brooks also claimed that seven of Moore’s accusers had presented “testimony or statements … that conflict with” Corfman’s story. No such conflicting statements existed.

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Porter, Moore’s spokeswoman, has lied with abandon. She claims that on CNN, Nelson’s attorney, Gloria Allred, “wouldn’t deny” that Nelson’s “yearbook is a forgery.” That’s a gross misrepresentation: What Allred demanded was a Senate investigation, under penalty of perjury, in which independent experts would compare the yearbook to known samples of Moore’s handwriting. Porter also claims that Corfman’s mother “disputes her arguments and her case.” “Her own mother doesn’t believe elements of her story,” says Porter. False again: Corfman’s mother confirms her daughter’s account and says she witnessed Moore meeting her daughter, contrary to his statements.

The biggest risk in Moore’s bold denials and countercharges is that new evidence, as it emerges, will shred them. That’s already happening. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that one accuser, Gibson, had just found her high school scrapbook in her attic. The scrapbook had a card from Moore, in which he had written “Happy graduation Debbie,” and, “I wanted to give you this card myself.”

Moore’s initial story to Hannity—“If we did go out on dates, then we did”—was compatible with the card. But Moore’s new story, that he didn’t know any of his accusers, wasn’t. So the card had to be attacked. Moore’s campaign strategist, Dean Young, went on CNN to dismiss the card as a meaningless, well-wishing note from a politician. Porter said that Moore was just a “family friend” and that Gibson’s story—that the card was more intimate—didn’t pass “the straight-face test.”

Unfortunately for Moore, such disputes can be adjudicated. The card was signed “Roy.” It was taped to a page in Gibson’s scrapbook. On another page in the same scrapbook was this note: “Wednesday night, 3-4-81. Roy S. Moore and I went out for the first time. We went out to eat at Catfish Cabin in Albertville. I had a great time.” If the card is real, then presumably the date between Moore and Gibson was real, too.

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Young thinks Moore can plead ignorance. “Judge Moore made it perfectly clear: If he did date a teenager, he didn’t know about it,” Young said Monday on CNN. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a date and then asked a girl how old she was.” But the graduation card, like the inscription in Nelson’s yearbook, shows Moore knew both girls were in high school.

What’s most damning is the handwriting on the card. It’s indistinguishable from the handwriting in the yearbook. Nelson and Gibson didn’t know one another, yet both have old documents bearing Moore’s signature, and the writing matches other samples. To believe that the yearbook inscription is forged, you have to postulate that a master forger somehow got access to both Nelson’s yearbook in Anniston, Alabama, and the scrapbook in Gibson’s attic in Delray Beach, Florida. And you can’t blame the Post, which revealed Gibson’s story but not Nelson’s. Only one person had access to both women: Roy Moore.

If the ethics committee holds hearings, Moore won’t just face these documents. His claim that the accusations are “completely unfounded, uncorroborated, unsubstantiated” will also be challenged by supporting witnesses. Corfman’s mother could tell the committee what she told the Post: that she was present when Moore met her daughter. The mother of Wendy Miller, another girl Moore targeted, could confirm the same thing. Nelson’s sister is ready to tell the committee what she has said on NBC: that in 1979, Nelson told her about her encounter with Moore. The lawyer for Gloria Deason, who has accused Moore of pursuing a relationship with her when she was 18, says Deason can supply additional details and “is willing to give sworn testimony before any judicial or governmental body.”

Republican senators need Moore’s vote. If he wins, they’ll argue that voters exonerated him and that his offenses, even if true, are ancient history. His Christian supporters will add, as some already have, that God has forgiven him. “Many of the things that he allegedly did were decades ago,” says Orrin Hatch, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican.

But Moore’s lies about his accusers aren’t ancient. They’re happening right now. That makes him an unrepentant sinner. It also makes him fair game for the ethics committee, which doesn’t like to delve into senators’ pasts. Open an investigation. Subpoena the yearbook and the scrapbook. Summon the accusers and their witnesses. And judge Roy Moore.

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