Jeremy Hunt's job is in fresh jeopardy amid claims he colluded with Rupert Murdoch's empire in a bid to prevent a public inquiry into phone hacking.
A newly disclosed email from News Corporation public affairs executive Fred Michel said the embattled Culture Secretary wanted the firm to "guide his and Number 10's thinking" on the scandal.
It also boasted of a tip-off about an "extremely helpful" statement Mr Hunt was due to make to MPs on the BSkyB bid.
The revelation, in material disclosed to the Leveson inquiry by former News International boss Rebekah Brooks, will intensify demands for David Cameron to launch an independent sleaze investigation into Mr Hunt's behaviour.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt insisted that Mr Michel's only contacts were with his special adviser, Adam Smith, who has already resigned after admitting his relations with News Corporation were too close. The Culture Secretary acted with integrity throughout and will "vindicate" his position when he gives his evidence to the inquiry, according to the spokeswoman.
The missive from Mr Michel to Mrs Brooks, dated June 27 2011, predicted accurately that later that week Mr Hunt would play down the impact of the phone hacking scandal on the BSkyB bid. The email stated that Mr Hunt wanted to "prevent a public inquiry" - instead suggesting that Parliament's Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions could carry out a wider investigation.
"For this the committee will need to come up a strong report in the autumn and put enough pressure on the PCC (Press Complaints Committee) to strength itself and take recommendations forward," Mr Michel wrote. "JH is now starting to looking to phone hacking/practices more thoroughly and has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10's positioning."
A month later reports emerged that Milly Dowler's mobile phone had been accessed, sparking a public outcry and leading David Cameron to launch the Leveson Inquiry.
Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said: "People will be disgusted at the prospect of Jeremy Hunt and Number 10 colluding with News Corporation to avoid a public inquiry into phone hacking. Jeremy Hunt was not on the side of victims and their families. Instead, he wanted it swept under the carpet because he was straining every sinew to support News Corporation's bid for BSkyB."
But a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt insisted: "Jeremy Hunt will respond to this when he gives evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in due course. He is confident his evidence will vindicate the position that he has behaved with integrity on every issue. It has already been made clear that when Fred Michel has claimed in emails to be speaking to Jeremy Hunt that was not the case."