Democrat presidential frontrunner Joe Biden has denied he sexually assaulted a former Senate aide, addressing the allegation publicly for the first time under increasing pressure from his party to speak about it.
"I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago," Mr Biden said in a written statement released by his campaign. "They aren't true. This never happened."
The statement was released shortly before Mr Biden was to appear on MSNBC's 'Morning Joe'.
Mr Biden also called on the National Archives to release any record of a complaint the woman says she filed.
"If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there," he said.
He attempted to show solidarity with the #MeToo movement even as he firmly repudiated the accusations from former Senate aide Tara Reade, who claims he reached under her skirt and penetrated her 27 years ago.
"While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated.
"One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced. The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny," he said in his statement.
Mr Biden also attacked President Donald Trump, saying "we have lived long enough with a president who doesn't think he is accountable to anyone, and takes responsibility for nothing. That's not me.
"I believe being accountable means having the difficult conversations, even when they are uncomfortable. People need to hear the truth."
Mr Biden's campaign had previously denied the allegations by Ms Reade, who worked in Mr Biden's Senate office for nine months ending in 1993.
But for weeks, the former vice president had been silent about her accusation. This week, demands from within his party to address it grew louder, and with each public appearance came scrutiny that began to eclipse the ideas and themes he was trying to promote.
Democratic and Republican leaders also came under intensifying calls to weigh in, triggering an explosive and often partisan debate. For many Democrats, the allegation was an uncomfortable topic that forced them to try to reconcile their support for Mr Biden with advocacy for many women who come forward with claims of sexual assault against powerful men. For some top Republicans, it was occasion to accuse Democrats of a double standard.
Mr Trump, Mr Biden's expected general election opponent, said on Thursday that Mr Biden "should respond" to the accusation, which Mr Trump said he "didn't know anything about".
The president suggested that Ms Reade's account could be a "false accusation", a topic he said he knew well. More than 20 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct over the years, prompting a series of denials.
Mr Trump said Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was "falsely charged" during his nomination hearings of sexually assaulting a woman when they were both teenagers in high school and said that what Mr Kavanaugh endured was a "disgrace to the country".
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has accused Democrats of abandoning the criticism and scepticism they applied to Mr Kavanaugh when it comes to Mr Biden.
"I think what most Americans would like is sort of a symmetrical evaluation of these allegations rather than what we have seen at least so far," Mr McConnell said on Fox News Radio this week.
Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that she had "a great comfort level" with how Mr Biden had addressed the allegation - at that point he had not spoken about it - and called him "a person of great integrity".
In 2019, several women said Mr Biden had been overly affectionate in a way that made them uncomfortable in previous interactions. (© Washington Post)