Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Chris Huhne was last night at the centre of speculation that he was secretly trying to undermine a colleague when he accidentally made public a private message.
Chris Huhne wrote that he wanted to keep his “fingerprints” off a story, which must appear as if it had come from “someone else”.
After he posted the message on Twitter, where it could be seen by all 7,616 people who subscribe to his updates, he quickly deleted it. But it had already been seen and prompted accusations that he had intended to send a private message to someone writing a damaging story about a rival.
Mr Huhne is already caught up in a bitter and long-running public row with his estranged wife and is waiting to hear if he will be charged with perverting the course of justice over allegations that he asked her to take three penalty points for speeding on his behalf.
This week he was described in the High Court as a hypocrite who concealed his affair with Carina Trimingham, a former aide, in order to portray himself as a family man before the election. Miss Trimingham has begun legal proceedings over a series of newspaper articles.
Mr Huhne, the Energy Secretary, is known to have had a volatile relationship with other senior members of his party, including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable. When he ran against Mr Clegg for leadership of the Lib Dems in 2007, he had to apologise after one of his team wrote a dossier titled “Calamity Clegg”.
Last night he appeared to have inadvertently exposed a current attempt to discredit an opponent or a policy.
He wrote from his Twitter account: “From someone else fine but I do not want my fingerprints on the story C.”
It appeared he had attempted to send a private Direct Message to another user of the network, but had accidentally posted it publicly. It was not clear who the intended recipient was, although he would have only been able to send a Direct Message to one of the 87 people he follows, who include about 30 national journalists and several fellow MPs.
Westminster insiders are likely to spend the weekend studying newspapers for the story referred to by Mr Huhne.
Although he soon erased the tweet, it had already been circulated widely.
Paul Richards, a Labour blogger, wrote: “Having studied his MO, Huhne’s story will be designed to do down Osborne on climate change, based on leaked Cabinet papers/info.”
Others suggested the story would attempt to discredit Caroline Flint, his new Labour opponent.
Peter Henley, a BBC reporter, said he had spoken to Mr Huhne, who claimed he was not at all embarrassed and had merely intended to send a private message to a member of staff, concerning a new angle on the ongoing row over a pet cat and the Human Rights Act.