“They are not dishonest people. They are not attention seekers. They are Republicans.”That’s what Henrietta Speaks wants people to know about Nancy Wells, her friend since high school in Gadsden decades ago, and Wells’ daughter, Leigh Corfman.
Corfman, backed up by her mother, has thrown Alabama’s race for a U.S. Senate seat into turmoil with her account to The Washington Post of a sexual encounter with candidate Roy Moore in 1979. Corfman was then 14 and Moore was 32 and an assistant district attorney.
Other women also have told the Post they dated Moore when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, but they’ve said the encounters did not go past kissing.
As the allegations drove some leading Republicans to rescind their endorsements of Moore, they also seem to have hardened the support from his base. Moore received a standing ovation at the conclusion of a speech he gave Saturday to the Mid-Alabama Republican Club in Vestavia Hills, his first public appearance since the allegations were published.
Voicing a question many of his supporters have raised since the Post article ran, Moore asked why the women would have waited 40 years – and four weeks before the election – to share their stories.
Moore, who denies the episodes with Corfman ever took place, has said he had been conducting his own investigation into the allegations, and he told the crowd Saturday that he’d be releasing information he’d discovered soon.
“In the next few days there will be revelations about the motivations and the content of this article that will be brought to the public,” the Associated Press quoted Moore as saying. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”
But Speaks said the stories about Moore and Corfman are not a recent invention. She said she first heard the story about 15 years ago, relayed by another friend in Wells and Speaks’ high school circle, in whom Corfman confided.
Richard Hagedorn, a Gadsden resident who says he has known Corfman for 25 years, says he also has known about problems with Moore.
Saturday, Paula Cobia, an attorney for another of Moore’s accusers, said in a statement following the Senate candidate’s speech that the women are being attacked for making their claims, and that’s one reason they earlier hesitated to describe their sexual or romantic relationships with Moore.
“Why did the women speak out now? Because someone finally showed up at their doors and asked them to tell what he did to them,” Cobia said in the statement.
The Post report said Corfman had considered confronting Moore for years but did not want to open up her personal life – including three divorces and a messy financial history – for scrutiny and criticism.
Speaks has stayed in touch with her high school friend Wells through the years, though their paths diverged. Speaks, who now lives in Birmingham, is a Democrat and her Facebook page shows support for a variety of progressive causes. Wells, she said, is politically conservative and voted for President Trump.
Recently, their conversations have avoided the divide, and instead they’ve had “mostly just polite conversation about recipes,” she said.
‘You Can’t Fight City Hall’
Speaks said she had “particular sympathy” for Leigh Corfman as a child of very young parents who soon divorced. She said she has no trouble understanding why Corfman avoided telling her story, for a long time even to her mother.
“You know this filthy little thing. But you can’t fight City Hall,” Speaks said. “Gadsden was a place where no young woman would go against a powerful man.”
Hagedorn is now a business owner in Gadsden, but in the past he was convicted of drug offenses and went to prison, he said. He’s an outspoken Democrat in a Republican town. He knows this all makes his account easier to dismiss. But he said he’s known that something was wrong involving Corfman and Moore.
“Leigh and I were friends off-and-on through the years. … And during the past few years, when she and I would get together and talk about Roy, she would have this visceral reaction about Roy,” he said.
“She never would go into great detail, because I could tell it was uncomfortable for her, and I just didn’t want to pry. But I could tell something was up.”
Why would she tell her story now?
“It was her time,” Hagedorn said. “She finally felt empowered enough, and it was her time to do it. She needed to cleanse herself of it, and I think she thinks that Roy has never acknowledged it, and it scarred her. That’s why she came forward with it.”
The Washington Post story reports that neither Corfman nor any of the three other women written about sought out The Post. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore, the Post said.
The Senate race is Dec. 12. Moore is facing Democrat Doug Jones. Jones has called on Moore to better address the allegations, but otherwise has avoided the topic and stuck to his campaign message in stops the past few days.
Sam Prickett contributed to this story.
(This story has been edited to correct the last name of Henrietta Speaks, not Sparks.)
Read coverage of the story:
Roy Moore Says Allegations are Intended to Derail Senate Bid (Washington Post/Associated Press)
Allegations Against Roy Moore Roil US Evangelical Ranks (Associated Press)
Roy Moore Alabama Senate Candidate Under Siege, Tries to Discredit Accusers (The New York Times)
Roy Moore’s Supporters Still ‘Believe in Him’ as GOP Senators Withdraw Endorsements (ABC News)
Democrat Doug Jones Charts An Unlikely Path in Alabama Senate Race as Scandal Isolates GOP’s Roy Moore (Los Angeles Times)