CNBC's Chris Matthews apologized last night for dragging a Washington journalist into the Kathleen Willey saga without evidence.

Matthews last week suggested that Cody Shearer, the brother-in-law of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, had tried to intimidate Willey, who has accused President Clinton of groping her in the Oval Office. While interviewing Willey on his "Hardball" program, Matthews indicated she had told him that Shearer was the man who, as she has testified, confronted her outside her Richmond home in January 1998. Willey would not confirm this on the air.

According to Willey, the man who approached her two days before her deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case asked about her missing cat, her tires that had been slashed and her children, by name, and questioned whether she was getting the message.

Shearer flatly denied through his attorney any involvement with Willey, saying he was on a month-long trip to California at the time and had restaurant and other receipts to prove it. By coincidence, Shearer ran into Matthews at the Philadelphia Amtrak station last weekend and strongly disputed the account in ways that Matthews says he found "credible."

"I now regret not having spoken beforehand with him before I mentioned his name on the air," Matthews told viewers. "I should never have brought his name up until we had vetted it."