While it is unclear if the review will expand into a full investigation, the FBI’s involvement heightens the scrutiny faced by the media giant, which is under intense fire in Britain over allegations that its journalists hacked into the phones of thousands of people.
The FBI probe also raises the politically delicate possibility that the Obama administration— which has questioned the objectivity of News Corp.’s Fox News — could bring criminal charges against employees of the network’s parent company. Murdoch is a political conservative, and last year he directed a $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association on behalf of News Corp.
U.S. officials cautioned that it is too soon to tell if charges will be filed, and they indicated that the probe could face a range of complexities, including jurisdictional issues and statutes of limitation that may have expired. Federal investigators also are expected to consult with their counterparts in Britain, which could slow their pace.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is unfolding.
Supervisory Special Agent Timothy Flannelly, a spokesman for the FBI’s New York Field Office, said the bureau is “aware of the allegations into News Corp. and we are reviewing the matter.’’ Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department “has received letters from several members of Congress regarding allegations related to News Corp. and we’re reviewing those.’’ They declined to comment further.
A spokeswoman for News Corp. did not return telephone calls seeking comment. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp., Murdoch said his company had handled the crisis “extremely well” and he pledged to set up an independent committee to “investigate every charge of improper conduct.”
A White House official in 2009 called News Corp.’s Fox News — which has been home to several staunch critics of President Obama — an “arm of the Republican Party,” and officials said the administration would begin to treat the network as “an opponent.’’
The White House has toned down its criticism since then.
Officials said the FBI probe was triggered by calls on Wednesday by several U.S. lawmakers for investigations into whether Murdoch’s British media operations violated U.S. laws. That followed a British newspaper’s report that Murdoch’s London-based journalists had tried to tap into phones of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That report, however, has not been corroborated by other news organizations or confirmed by official sources.