Donald Trump is facing fresh criticism after he publicly endorsed a Republican Senate candidate who has been accused of sexually molesting minors as young as 14 years old.
Trump tweeted his support for Roy Moore, who is running for a US Senate seat in Alabama, on Monday, saying the Democrats' refusal to vote in favour of his recent tax bill "is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama".
"We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, VA, Judges 2nd Amendment and more," Trump wrote on Twitter.
Moore has been accused of sexually molesting at least four women when they were between the ages of 14 and 18, according to an investigation by The Washington Post published in early November.
The senator has denied allegations, telling the newspaper they were "a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign".
Moore was an assistant district attorney in his early 30s when the incidents allegedly took place.
One woman told the Washington Post that Moore approached her at a local mall, while another said he made contact with her after he spoke to her high school class. The women said Moore groped them and initiated sexual contact with them.
The Senate race is extremely close in Alabama, with Moore holding a slight lead at 49 percent over his main challenger, Democrat Doug Jones, who is polling at 43 percent, according to a recent CBS News poll.
The same poll found that 71 percent of Alabama Republicans did not believe the accusations against Moore. Of that number, a vast majority believed the Democrats and the media were behind the claims.
The special election will take place on December 12.
On Monday, Moore said he was "thankful for President Trump's support".
"Just got off the phone with President Trump who offered his full support and said he needs a fighter to help him in the US Senate," Moore tweeted, adding that the US president told him, "Go get 'em, Roy!"
"I look forward to fighting alongside the President to #MAGA!" he wrote, using the acronym for Trump's campaign promise to Make America Great Again.
Former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele condemned Trump's endorsement of Moore on Monday.
"Your refusal to acknowledge you've just endorsed an alleged paedophile for the sake of 'a vote' tells me Roy Moore will be a Trump Puppet and America no longer has a moral compass under your 'leadership,'" Steele wrote on Twitter.
|Beverly Young Nelson (pictured) says Moore sexually harassed her when she was 16 [Lucas Jackson/Reuters]|
Jaime Harrison, associate chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNA), also tweeted his indignation.
"You read it right ... the leader of the Free World ... the President of the US has endorsed a pedophile to serve in the Senate! #WhatDoYouHaveToLose #DisgustedYet #GodHelpUs," he wrote.
Others on Twitter said the president's endorsement was ironic given the allegations that Trump himself has faced regarding his own alleged sexual assault and harassment of women.
In a recording from 2005, Trump can be heard bragging to entertainment news host Billy Bush about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women.
"You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait," Trump said in the recording, which was released by the Washington Post and NBC News in 2016.
"When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," Trump added.
"Grab them by the p****. You can do anything."
After the release of the video, Trump apologised in a filmed statement on Twitter.
"I've never said I'm a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I'm not. I've said and done things I regret ... Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologise," he said.
Several women have come forward in recent weeks to accuse a slew of men in positions of power, including other US politicians, of sexual harassment and assault.
At least two women have accused Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr of Michigan of inappropriate sexual advances, including unwanted touching and harassment. The congressman is due to make a decision about whether to resign this week, according to The Detroit News. He has repeatedly denied allegations that he mistreated women who worked for him.
Al Franken, another Democratic Congressman, was also accused of groping radio host Leeann Tweeden in 2006.
At least five other women have subsequently accused Franken of groping them, according to Time magazine. Republicans have called for Franken to resign, but he has so far resisted that demand. He issued an apology last month without fully acknowledging the allegations.