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CNN suspends Robert Novak

Commentator swore and walked off set during a debate with  James Carville
/ Source: The Associated Press

Robert Novak apologized Friday for swearing on the air and walking off a CNN set, but said it had nothing to do with the federal probe sparked by his revelation of a CIA officer’s name in a 2003 column.

“I apologize for my conduct and I’m sorry I did it,” he said in an interview.

CNN has pulled him off the air indefinitely. Novak said “I’ll follow their guidance” on when he returns.

CNN correspondent Ed Henry said afterward that he had been about to ask Novak about his role in the investigation of the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity, which Novak has repeatedly refused to comment on aside from some references in his column.

“That had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing,” Novak said. “I was sorry he said that.”

The incident occurred Thursday as Novak and Democratic operative James Carville were handicapping the Senate candidacy of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Novak said the opposition of the Republican establishment in Florida might not be fatal for her.

“Let me just finish, James, please,” Novak continued. “I know you hate to hear me, but you have to.”

Carville, addressing the camera, said: “He’s got to show these right wingers that he’s got a backbone, you know. It’s why The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show ’em that you’re tough.”

“Well, I think that’s bull---- and I hate that,” Novak replied. “Just let it go.”

As moderator Henry stepped in to ask Carville a question, Novak walked off the set.

A CNN spokeswoman, Edie Emery, called Novak’s behavior “inexcusable and unacceptable.” She said “we’ve asked Mr. Novak to take some time off,” she said.

Links to Plame caseOnly two weeks ago, CNN executives defended their decision to keep Novak on the air during the investigation into the leak. Novak identified Plame in July 2003 as the wife of Bush administration critic and former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson.

In his syndicated column Monday, Novak provided some details after having been largely silent about his role. He did not dispute that a former CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, told him he should not print Plame’s name during conversations they had before the column was published.

But Novak reasserted that no CIA official ever told him in advance “that Valerie Plame Wilson’s disclosure would endanger her or anybody else.”

Wilson has said the leak of his wife’s name was an attempt by the administration to discredit him. Two other reporters connected to the case openly fought the revelation of their sources, and Judith Miller of The New York Times has been jailed for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Henry said Thursday that Novak had been told before the “Inside Politics” segment that he was going to be asked on air about the CIA case.

“I’m hoping that we will be able to ask him about that in the future,” Henry said.

Novak has been a longtime contributor to CNN, taking the conservative point of view during the just-canceled “Crossfire” show.