Nicola Sturgeon's husband has told a Holyrood inquiry he knew his wife was meeting Alex Salmond in their home about "something serious" but never asked what.
Peter Murrell, who is also the SNP's chief executive, said he was aware of meetings between his wife and Mr Salmond in April and July 2018, shortly before sexual misconduct allegations became public.
But he said Ms Sturgeon told him she could not discuss the details and he accepted this as the "nature of Nicola’s job means that when she tells me she can’t discuss something, I don’t press it."
Mr Murrell insisted he only found out about the allegations in August 2018 when they were reported in the media, despite Ms Sturgeon having known about them for at least four months.
He also told the inquiry he was unaware of any instances where a Scottish Government minister had used their SNP email addresses for communicating instead of their government accounts, despite his wife using a party email for out-of-hours work for years.
In addition, Mr Murrell said he had "no direct knowledge of" how the complaints against Mr Salmond were handled by the Scottish Government or the former First Minister's successful judicial review, when the country's highest civil court found the investigation was unlawful.
But the chairman of the cross-party committee conducting the inquiry challenged his evidence and demanded answers to a series of key questions to which he did not provide a response.
Linda Fabiani, an SNP MSP, asked him to "canvas colleagues" for information and records, including emails, minutes, notes, texts, papers and WhatsApp messages "from all levels of the SNP."
Mr Murrell's letter was published the day after Mr Salmond offered to take Ms Sturgeon's government back to court to help the inquiry obtain key documents that have been withheld about the botched sexual misconduct investigation into him.
The former First Minister's solicitor said he was willing to apply to the Court of Session for the documents after the SNP government failed to hand them over to the inquiry.
The committee's complaints that the Scottish Government is being evasive and secretive intensified yesterday when Ms Sturgeon's chief mandarin wrote to Ms Fabiani to apologise for providing incorrect evidence the day before.
Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government's permanent secretary, told the inquiry she was unaware of any role played by special advisers in the legal battle against Mr Salmond only for it to emerge that she attended talks with Ms Sturgeon and Liz Lloyd, the First Minister's chief of staff.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in January last year that she discovered Mr Salmond was under investigation for sexual misconduct when he came to her Glasgow home on April 2, 2018.
Despite being aware of the inquiry, she met him again in Aberdeen before the SNP conference on June 7, and again in her home on July 14. She also spoke to him by phone on April 23 and July 18 that year.
In his letter to the committee, Mr Murrell said: “I knew about the meetings between Nicola and Alex Salmond at our home on April 2 and July 14, 2018 and I had the sense that something serious was being discussed.
“Nicola told me she couldn’t discuss the details." He added: "I was not present at these meetings and made no contribution to them.”
Mr Murrell said the SNP took “no action” in relation to the complaints against Mr Salmond before they became public.
But the Scottish Tories highlighted evidence from Mr Salmond's court case, in which he was acquitted of all 13 charges, when a complainer said she sent a message to SNP headquarters in November 2017 and was told "we'll sit on that and hope we never need to deploy it."
Murdo Fraser, a Tory committee member, said this meant the SNP took no action for up to nine months, before the allegations became public.
He also poured scorn on Mr Murrell's claim his wife did not tell him about her "showdowns" with Mr Salmond, saying: "The Sturgeon household must have the sturdiest Chinese walls in history."
In her letter, Ms Evans said her incorrect answer on Ms Lloyd's involvement "was based upon my best recollection at the time."
But Jackie Baillie, a Scottish Labour committee member, said her failure to recall the meeting was "truly remarkable." She added: "Time and time again this committee has been faced with evasion and secrecy from witnesses. This must end."