A woman has accused Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for the US Senate in Alabama, of initiating a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 years old, prompting top Republicans to say he should step aside if the allegations prove true.
Moore, 70, the state's former chief judge, has vehemently denied the allegations, calling them "completely false and a desperate political attack."
US President Donald Trump would want Moore to step aside if the allegations against him are true, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Friday.
"Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person's life," Sanders said.
"However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside," she said, as Trump arrived in Vietnam on his 12-day Asia tour.
In a series of Twitter posts later in the day, Moore cast the published allegations against him part of a bid to "silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me," adding "I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!"
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, working with a slim 52-48 majority, called on Moore to drop out of the race "if these allegations are true." Several other Republicans, including Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Utah Senator Mike Lee, all of whom endorsed Moore, echoed that sentiment.
At least two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and John Thune of South Dakota, said Moore should step aside immediately, with McCain calling the accusations "deeply disturbing and disqualifying."
Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Washington Post she met Moore at a courthouse in 1979 when Moore offered to keep her company on a bench outside of a hearing room while her mother was inside for child custody proceeding.
Moore, at the time an assistant district attorney, asked for the girl's phone number and days later took her to his house, where they engaged in sexual activity before she asked to be taken home, Corfman said.
The story also quoted three other women who said Moore dated them when they were between 16 and 18 years of age and he was in his early 30s, though none said they had sexual contact with Moore.
The Moore campaign accused the Post of colluding with Democrats to tarnish his reputation with false accusations.