US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied an allegation of sexual misconduct from when he was in high school, seeking to defuse a potential threat to his confirmation as a handful of key senators remained silent on whether they would vote for him.
In a statement released by the White House, 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 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 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 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. They were not authorised to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The AP has not confirmed the details of the incident alleged in The New Yorker's account.
Rallying to Kavanaugh's defence, 65 women who knew him in high school issued a letter saying Kavanaugh has "always treated women with decency and respect." The letter was circulated by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The show of support for Kavanaugh was organised by his former law clerks. Three women reached by the AP said they were first asked to sign the letter on Thursday.
The swift pushback comes after the committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, notified federal investigators about information she received on the nominee.
Feinstein won't disclose the information publicly, but the FBI confirmed it has included it in Kavanaugh's background file at the committee, now available confidentially to all senators.
The Judiciary Committee, which has finished confirmation hearings for 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 Feinstein's move an "11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation".