US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied an allegation of sexual misconduct from when he was in high school.
In a statement released by the White House, Mr Kavanaugh said: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Senate Republicans insist Mr Kavanaugh’s confirmation remains on track. But the allegation has inflamed an already intense political battle over President Donald Trump’s nominee.
It also pushes the #MeToo movement into the court fight, less than two months before congressional elections that have seen a surge of female Democratic candidates.
The New Yorker magazine reported that the alleged incident took place at a party when Mr Kavanaugh, now 53, was attending Georgetown Preparatory School. The woman making the allegation attended a nearby school.
The magazine says the woman sent a letter about the allegation to Democrats. A Democratic aide and another person familiar with the letter confirmed on Friday to The Associated Press that the allegation is sexual in nature.
Two other people familiar with the matter confirmed it concerned an incident alleged to have occurred in high school.
The AP has not confirmed the details of the incident alleged in The New Yorker’s account.
Rallying to Mr Kavanaugh’s defence, 65 women who knew him in high school issued a letter saying Mr Kavanaugh has “always treated women with decency and respect”. The letter was circulated by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We are women who have known Brett Kavanaugh for more than 35 years and knew him while he attended high school between 1979 and 1983,” wrote the women, who said most of them had attended all-girl high schools in the area.
“For the entire time we have known Brett Kavanaugh, he has behaved honourably and treated women with respect.”
The show of support for Mr Kavanaugh was organised by his former law clerks. Three women reached by AP said they were first asked to sign the letter on Thursday.
The swift pushback comes after the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, notified federal investigators about information she received about the nominee.
Ms Feinstein will not disclose the information publicly, but the FBI confirmed it has included it in Mr Kavanaugh’s background file at the committee, now available confidentially to all senators.
Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination has divided the Senate and the new information complicates the process, especially as key Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are under enormous pressure from outside groups seeking to sway their votes on grounds that a Justice Kavanaugh might vote to undercut the Roe v Wade abortion ruling.
One activist group favouring abortion choice, NARAL, called on Mr Kavanaugh to withdraw from consideration.
The Judiciary Committee, which has finished confirmation hearings for Mr Kavanagh, still plans to vote next Thursday on whether to recommend that he be confirmed by the full Senate, a spokesman said.
The White House called Ms Feinstein’s move an “11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation”.
Ms Collins held an hour-long phone call with Mr Kavanaugh on Friday, her spokeswoman confirmed. It had been a previously scheduled follow-up to an initial visit that Mr Kavanaugh made to her office in August. It was not immediately clear if they discussed the new information.
If Ms Collins or Ms Murkowski should vote for Mr Kavanaugh, he is likely to be confirmed. Every other Republican in the Senate is expected to vote yes — and some Democrats from Trump-won states may join them — though it remains to be seen if the misconduct allegation will cost him any support.