Education Secretary Michael Gove was not told about allegations of bullying by advisers in his department, a senior civil servant has told MPs.
Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Education Department, told the Education Committee it was "standard practice" not to inform ministers of grievance claims.
Mr Gove said "procedures had been followed at every point".
They had been recalled by the committee to give further evidence on the allegations on 13 March 2013.
Mr Gove said the allegations had been investigated and were "proved to be unfounded".
There were heated exchanges between the education secretary and Labour MPs Bill Esterson and Alex Cunningham.
The two committee members implied there must be "some truth" to the claims because the education secretary had not challenged specific allegations in a national newspaper.
Mr Gove said "reporting in a number of areas has been wrong", but added: "I champion a free press."
He said he would "rigorously contest in open debate" but he did not believe "one should attempt to browbeat or use the courts or to use strong arm tactics", adding: "You take the rough with the smooth in newspaper commentary."
Conservative committee member Chris Skidmore said the hearing had "descended into a embarrassing farce", and apologised to the education secretary for MPs "chasing the tail" of a newspaper story.