By Gautham Nagesh - 07/13/11 02:26 PM EDT
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is calling for a U.S. probe of wiretapping allegations against News Corp. and warning the consequences will be severe if the firm is found to have targeted Americans.
The British tabloid News of the World, a News Corp. subsidiary, was shut down Sunday after numerous allegations of illegal phone-tapping, including against members of the royal family. British authorities have opened an investigation into the allegations.
"This raises serious questions about whether the company has broken U.S. law, and I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller's statement is the first indication that U.S. authorities might investigate the firm over the incident. News Corp. has drawn scrutiny in the past thanks to its perceived sympathy for the GOP, including a $1 million donation in August to the Republican Governors Association.
News Corp. was founded by Rupert Murdoch and owns Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairwoman Mary Schapiro on Wednesday, expressing his concern over reports News Corp. allegedly bribed foreign law enforcement officials to advance their interests, in violation of U.S. law.
"The limited information already reported in this case raises serious questions about the legality of the conduct of News Corp. and its subsidiaries under the [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act]," Lautenberg said.
"Further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corp. Accordingly, I am requesting that DOJ and the SEC examine these circumstances and determine whether U.S. laws have been violated."
Rockefeller warned that he is particularly concerned that News of the World might have breached the privacy of victims of the 9/11 attacks. The senator promised retribution if any violations are found.
"I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans," Rockefeller said. "If they did, the consequences will be severe."
Transaparency advocates were quick to praise Rockefeller and call for congressional hearings on the matter.
“While it is encouraging that Sen. Rockefeller shares CREW’s concern about whether American 9/11 victims had their voice mails hacked, there is no need to cede all investigative authority to the executive branch," said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) executive director Melanie Sloan.
"Just as the British Parliament has held hearings and heard the testimony of witnesses, Congress has the ability to subpoena News Corp. employees and require them to explain themselves," Sloan added.
"The idea that News Corp. may have sought to exploit the victims of one of the darkest days in U.S. history for financial gain is grotesque."
News Corp. withdrew its bid to take full control of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB Wednesday after political pressure for it to do so mounted in the face of the growing scandal.
This post was updated at 11:02 a.m.