Therese Coffey took to the airwaves with one main defence – that Boris Johnson did not know “specific claims” about Chris Pincher before appointing him deputy chief whip.
But broadcasters were riled by the lack of details given by the Work and Pensions Secretary as she was given the unenviable task of handling the Sunday round of broadcast interviews.
The Cabinet minister insisted she is not part of the “general chatter, rumour mill discussions” after Mr Pincher became the latest in a line of Tories to be suspended over misconduct claims.
Visibly frustrated as she sought to unearth the details, Sky’s Sophy Ridge said: “Why don’t you ask?
“I get perhaps it’s easier to just to be able to come on these programmes and say, ‘Look, I don’t know’. But surely you must ask to try and find out, that’s the first thing most people would do – when did the Prime Minister know? – so when I am asked this question I can give the answer.”
Ms Coffey said she had outlined what happened and reiterated action had been taken against Mr Pincher, who resigned from his ministerial role after being accused of drunkenly groping two men in a private members’ club this week.
After Ridge apologised for interrupting her again in a bid to gain clarity, Ms Coffey replied: “You don’t need to apologise, I’m just going to give you the same answer, Sophy.”
Mr Johnson is under pressure for giving Mr Pincher the key role in February, despite allegedly having referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.
Ms Coffey’s key line to defend Mr Johnson was: “I am aware that the Prime Minister was not aware of specific claims that had been made.”
On the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Ms Coffey conceded she had not received the assurance directly from the Prime Minister.
Instead, she said she had been given the denial by “somebody from the No 10 press office”.
She faced a similarly tough time on Times Radio, where presenter Carole Walker said: “You almost have to feel sorry for a minister…”
Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds expressed less sympathy.
“I thought parts of that were desperate, to be honest,” he told Sky.
“I think we’ve got to acknowledge what the consistent problem is and it is a Conservative Party that repeatedly chooses to do what is politically expedient over what is right.
“It’s clear from what we know this morning that Chris Pincher should never have been put back into the whips’ office.”