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CNN's Morgan denies role in phone hacking

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 United States, clashed repeatedly with the British 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.

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 British 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 that 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 that McCartney "even sang 'We Can Work It Out' into the answer phone."

Mills, who went on to divorce McCartney, has alleged that there was no way Morgan could have obtained the message honestly -- an allegation that could prove embarrassing to CNN, which brought the journalist, 46, on board in January to replace Larry King as its marquee talk-show host.

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 the 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.

Meanwhile, News Corp. announced settlements with seven more prominent figures victimized by the newspaper's phone hacking.

The company said in a statement that it had settled claims brought by Princess Diana's former lover James Hewitt, ex-Liberal Democrat lawmaker Mark Oaten, TV anchor Ukrika Jonsson, model Abi Titmuss and Paul Dadge, who helped rescue victims of the 2005 London transit bombings. Theatrical agent Michelle Milburn and Calum Best, the son of soccer legend George Best, rounded out the settlement list.

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