A top U.S. lawmaker has asked the British to help determine whether any American laws were broken in the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s media and entertainment empire.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday asked Lord Justice Brian Leveson — who is leading a British judicial inquiry into the scandal in Britain — to turn over any findings that indicate if U.S. laws were broken by journalists or other employees of News Corp., the conglomerate Murdoch controls.
Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate commerce committee, which has broad oversight of American businesses and the Federal Communications Commission. An aide to Rockefeller stressed on Thursday that he hasn’t called for an official committee investigation of New York-based News Corp. and that he simply wants information that may have surfaced during the Leveson inquiry.
The Justice Department and FBI are in the midst of two investigations into the hacking scandal. One seeks to learn if any News Corp. employees engaged in phone hacking in the United States; another is aimed at determining whether bribes paid to British officials by journalists at two News Corp. papers, the now-defunct News of the World and the Sun, for newsworthy information constituted a breach of a U.S. anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Rockefeller, who called for an investigation when the scandal erupted in Britain in the summer, indicated in his letter that he was seeking similar information.
“I am concerned about the possibility that some of [the] undisclosed victims are U.S. citizens, and the possibility that telephone networks under the jurisdiction of U.S. laws were used to intercept their voice mail messages,” he wrote to Leveson.
He added that if News Corp. “was performing internal auditing of these newspapers’ financial controls, News International’s executives would have been aware of these large improper cash expenditures. I would be very concerned if evidence emerged suggesting that News Corp. officials in New York were also aware of these payments and did not act to stop them.”
Journalists and hired investigators at the News of the World illegally tapped into the voice mail accounts of hundreds of celebrities, politicians, government officials and ordinary citizens over a four-year period. Evidence has also emerged that the newspaper bribed dozens of police and government officials. The conduct appears to have taken place to a lesser extent at the Sun, the most popular daily paper in the United Kingdom.
The scandal has led to the conviction of several News Corp. employees, the arrests of dozens of others and the resignations of executives who oversaw News International, the News Corp. subsidiary that operates the British papers.
On Tuesday, a parliamentary committee, citing Murdoch’s slow response to the scandal, deemed him “unfit” to run an international company — a stinging and unexpected rebuke of a man considered a kingmaker in British politics. It also found that his son James, who formerly was chairman of News International, did not act to stop the corruption when made aware of it in 2007. In addition, it rebuked several former News Corp. executives for misleading testimony before Parliament.
The committee vote was split along partisan lines, with Labor and Liberal Democrats voting in favor and Conservatives voting against it.
News Corp. has said repeatedly that it is cooperating with the British and American investigations. The company’s board has also backed Murdoch, its 81-year-old chairman and chief executive.