CNN’s Piers Morgan rejects phone hacking claims

LONDON (AP) — A tense and sometimes hostile Piers Morgan refused to disclose details Tuesday about the most damning link between himself and Britain’s phone hacking scandal — his acknowledgment that he once listened to a phone message left by Paul McCartney for his then-wife Heather Mills.

The CNN celebrity interviewer, testifying through a video link from the U.S., clashed repeatedly with the UK panel investigating media ethics, insisting he never took part in the illegal phone hacking that has led to the closure of a Sunday tabloid he once edited and the arrests of friends and former colleagues.

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CNN star interviewer Piers Morgan answers questions Tuesday from a media ethics inquiry sitting in London, England, about his time at the top of Britain’s tabloid industry, at an unknown location in the U.S. Morgan ran two British tabloids — the News of the World and the Daily Mirror — before his editorship was cut short by scandal in 2004.

The stakes were high for Morgan. More than a dozen journalists have been arrested, senior executives with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire have lost their jobs, and top U.K. police officers have resigned over their failure to tackle the phone hacking scandal.

His testimony was given under oath, and Morgan could be subject to criminal proceedings if he is found to have violated any British laws.

Morgan’s defense Tuesday was part denial, part apology and a healthy helping of “I don’t recall.”

A key line of questioning centered on the comments Morgan made in a 2006 article he wrote for the Daily Mail tabloid. In it, Morgan said he was played a phone message left by the former Beatle on Mills’ answering machine, describing it in detail and noting McCartney “even sang ‘We Can Work It Out’ into the answer phone.”

Mills, who went on to divorce McCartney, has charged there was no way Morgan could have obtained the message honestly — an allegation that could prove embarrassing to CNN, which brought the 46-year-old journalist on board in January to replace Larry King.

Morgan stubbornly refused Tuesday to go into any detail about the message, saying: “I’m not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me.”

Pressed by inquiry chief Lord Justice Brian Leveson about whether he could provide any evidence to substantiate that he had obtained the message legally, Morgan said he could not.

“I can’t start any trail that leads to the identification of a source,” he said.

Before his U.S. television career, Morgan ran two British tabloids — Murdoch’s now-shuttered News of the World, between 1994 and 1995, then the rival Daily Mirror, which is not connected to the Murdoch empire, where he stayed for nearly a decade.

Much of Tuesday’s inquiry focused on the time Morgan spent at the latter, which could revive earlier suggestions that hacking was not confined to journalists working for News International, the British subsidiary of Rupert Murdochs global media giant, News Corp.

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