The White House on Thursday said President Donald Trump thinks allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore are "troubling" but declined to say unequivocally that Moore should drop out of the race.
"The president believes that these allegations are troubling and should be taken very seriously, and that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be," said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking to reporters.
But Sanders declined to say whether the president specifically believes the allegations of sexual misconduct from nine separate women to be true. Nor would Sanders say what sort of evidence would persuade Trump that the allegations are true. "I'm not going to litigate back and forth" on that, she said.
She noted the president supported the decision by the Republican National Committee, the party's nationwide fundraising arm, to "withdraw resources from the [Alabama] race, but [he] feels it's up to the people of Alabama to make this decision."
By saying the decision of whether to elect Moore to the Senate should be left to the voters of Alabama, the White House was effectively rejecting a number of proposals floated in recent days that would remove Moore from the ballot, or designate a Republican candidate to mount a write-in campaign — a far shot with less than a month to go.
The White House also stopped short of using the language that many top Republicans in the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have used to denounce Moore, calling him unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate, and threatening to remove him from the upper chamber if he is elected in the Dec. 12 special election.
"I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office," said National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., on Monday.
"If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate," Gardner said.
Moore, meanwhile, shows no signs of stepping aside. On the contrary, he insists that he never acted inappropriately with any women. With less than a month before election day, Moore spent much of the week railing against what he called "lies and smears."
Moore also repeatedly suggested there's no difference between the allegations against him and the accounts of more than a dozen women who alleged in 2016 that then-candidate Donald Trump had either sexually harassed or assaulted them.
In Thursday's White House press briefing, James Rosen asked Sanders about the president's belief that the Moore allegations were "extremely troubling" but that the women who accused him of misconduct were all lying.
"I think the president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn't do," than he does about Moore, Sanders said. "And he spoke out about that directly during the campaign."