WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has rebutted twin accusations of sexual misconduct in his youth, telling Fox News he "never" sexually assaulted anyone and was long a virgin.
With pressure mounting to put Mr Kavanaugh's nomination on hold for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to probe his past - a day after a second woman came forward to accuse him - Mr Trump stood firmly behind his embattled nominee, blasting the allegations as "totally political".
The bombshell claims, dating back to the conservative judge's high school and college days, threaten to derail what was seen as an all-but-certain confirmation to the lifelong post on the top court.
Instead, he now faces a Senate showdown against the first of his accusers, university professor Christine Blasey Ford, who is set to testify against him tomorrow.
With his future and reputation on the line, Mr Kavanaugh stepped up his counter-attack on Monday, saying: "I've never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever. I've always treated women with dignity and respect."
"I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter," he told Fox News, appearing alongside his wife Ashley. "I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process," he added, repeatedly calling for a "fair process".
"Through all these years that were in question, you were a virgin?" Fox News host Martha MacCallum asked.
"That's correct," Mr Kavanaugh replied, adding that he did not have sex until "many years after" college.
After a dramatic week-long standoff, Dr Ford finally committed on Sunday to be questioned in a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is weighing Mr Kavanaugh's nomination.
Dr Ford alleged that a drunken Mr Kavanaugh and another boy shut her in a room and tried to tear her clothes off at a high school beer party in Washington around 1982, when she was 15 and he, 17.
Just hours later, The New Yorker dropped a new bombshell, reporting that a second woman was accusing the Washington appeals court judge of sexual misconduct while they were students at Yale University around 1983-1984.
Ms Deborah Ramirez, 53, said Mr Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a party, thrusting his genitals in her face and causing her to touch them without her consent, according to the magazine.
The allegations stand to derail a nomination that Republicans see as crucial to gaining conservative control of the high court for years.
They could also play decisively in the November mid-term elections, where Republican control of both Houses of Congress is under threat.
Mr Kavanaugh has said no witnesses have come forward to corroborate the women's accounts.
Both accusers have acknowledged memory lapses, which could weaken their claims.
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters were removed from the US Capitol for demonstrating against the judge's confirmation.
Mr Trump, speaking in New York where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly, threw his full weight behind Mr Kavanaugh. "There's a chance that this could be one of the single most unfair, unjust things to happen to a candidate, but I am with Judge Kavanaugh," Mr Trump said.
"For people to come out of the woodwork from 36 years ago and 30 years ago and never mention it and all of a sudden it happens - in my opinion, it's totally political."