The Prime Minister's chief public servant, Andrew Kibblewhite, offered his resignation to John Key for breaching the no-surprises rule in matters crucial to the David Henry inquiry, but it was rejected.
Mr Kibblewhite, however, has apologised to Mr Key for failing to tell him that the content of emails between United Future leader Peter Dunne and reporter Andrea Vance had been sent to the Henry inquiry into the leak of a report into the Government Communications Security Bureau spy agency.
"It was implicit in the conversation he was having with me that if I wanted his resignation it would have been there," Mr Key said at his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday. "I certainly wouldn't accept his resignation."
Mr Key found out last Friday that the inquiry had been sent email content; Mr Kibblewhite, chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, knew about it for about a month.
Mr Key said Mr Kibblewhite should have put what he knew in the public domain several weeks ago, when it became clear that the Speaker, David Carter, had to correct answers previously given to him from Parliamentary Service about Andrea Vance's phone records not going to the inquiry when they had.
"In his defence, he was on bereavement leave," said Mr Key.
"It was a very challenging set of circumstances for him but nevertheless that information should have been out in the public domain."
Mr Dunne was forced to resign as a minister because he refused permission to hand over the contents of his emails.
David Henry sought permission from Mr Dunne for access to the email content but did not mention they had already been sent.
They were apparently not opened because the email system the inquiry used could not open the personal storage files sent from the Parliamentary Service Outlook system.
Mr Key said Mr Kibblewhite took the view that because Mr Dunne's email content was never opened or seen, it did not form part of the inquiry. "I think that is a very narrow definition but it is looking at it from a bureaucracy perspective, not looking at it from a political perspective."
The report into the GCSB that was leaked formed the basis for legislation amending the act empowering the GCSB. The bill is coming back to Parliament today for debate on its committee stages, during which Mr Dunne will put up a series of changes.
Last night, Mr Dunne told TV3 that the Henry inquiry had been a low-level inquiry that got out of control.
"It had no formal investigative powers but it acted as though it was the Spanish Inquisition."