Claims that people close to her were involved in a plot against Alex Salmond are “absurd”, Nicola Sturgeon has insisted.
The first minister was speaking at the inquiry into her government’s unlawful handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.
She apologised to the two women who had made the complaints, saying they were let down by a “very serious error”.
But she rejected much of Mr Salmond’s version of events.
Ms Sturgeon said she had “thought often” about the impact of the past three years on Mr Salmond, but said Mr Salmond had shown no sign of thinking of others.
She said she had watched Mr Salmond give evidence to the inquiry committee last Friday and had found herself “searching for any sign at all that he recognised how difficult this had been for others too”.
The first minister added: “First of all, for women who believed his behaviour towards them was inappropriate.
“But also for those of us who have campaigned alongside him, worked with him, cared for him, and consider him a friend – who now stand unfairly accused of plotting against him.”
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that Mr Salmond had been cleared of all of the sexual assault allegations against him by a High Court jury.
But she added: “I know just from what he told me that his behaviour was not always appropriate.
“And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or even a simple acknowledgement of that.
“I can only hope that in private, the reality might be different.”
Ms Sturgeon said the moment Mr Salmond showed her a letter detailing the complaints against him was “a moment I will never forget”.
She said: “Although he denied the allegations, he gave me an account of one of the incidents, the complaints, of which he said he had apologised at the time.
“What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part.”
The inquiry is examining the Scottish government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond by two female civil servants.
Ms Sturgeon is facing calls to quit from Scottish Conservatives after new documents released on Tuesday evening raised further questions about her involvement in the saga.
The government published emails showing it continued a doomed legal fight with Mr Salmond despite its lawyers advising it was likely to lose.
It ended up paying Mr Salmond’s legal fees of more than £500,000, on top of its own costs, after the investigation was found to have been unlawful and “tainted with bias”.
Further evidence from two other witnesses also called into question Ms Sturgeon’s account of meetings she had with Mr Salmond and his former chief of staff.
Mr Salmond used his evidence session last week to accuse his former protege of repeatedly misleading parliament, and said he had “no doubt” she had breached the ministerial code.
Ms Sturgeon said the government had made a “very serious mistake” in how it had applied a newly-devised procedure to the complaints against Mr Salmond.
But she has repeatedly denied breaching the code – which sets out how government ministers are expected to behave.
She told the inquiry: “Two women were failed, and taxpayer’s money was lost – I deeply regret that.”
However the first minister insisted that the complaints procedure was not put in place to target Mr Salmond, as some of his supporters have claimed.
She told the committee that she was not aware of any allegations or concerns about sexually inappropriate behaviour on the part of Mr Salmond until a media enquiry was made in November 2017.
She also said no complaints had been brought to her which she could have acted on when she was deputy first minister to Mr Salmond.
Ms Sturgeon added: “Have I for my entire working life been aware of problems of sexual harassment and sexisim and misogyny? You bet I have.
“But to say things were brought to me or that there were things I could have acted on – that’s not the same thing.”