News Corp. scandal crosses the Atlantic

The scandal enveloping the media conglomerate News Corp. crossed the Atlantic on Wednesday, as several Senate Democrats called for investigations of allegations that the firm bribed foreign officials and hacked the phones of 9/11 victims.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) all called for the U.S. government to act on Wednesday, even as News Corp. dropped its bid to take over the British satellite TV provider BSkyB under political pressure from the U.K. Parliament.

Later on Wednesday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, became the first Republican to call for an FBI investigation. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) also called for a probe.

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The reported allegations against News Corporation are very serious, indicate a pattern of illegal activity, and involve thousands of potential victims, Boxer and Rockefeller wrote in a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro to investigate.

It is important to ensure that no United States laws were broken and no United States citizens were victimized.  

Rockefeller told The Hill on Wednesday that the Senate Commerce Committee would have jurisdiction over the issue unless criminal charges were brought, at which point the investigation would move to the Judiciary Committee.

Obviously, it's an enormous problem, Rockefeller said. There's the problem of what happened over there in that country, what's happened here. Were 9/11 families, victims' families, called or not? Were laws broken?

We're going to be very attentive to that problem.

Reports that the now-shuttered British tabloid News of the World may have breached the privacy of 9/11 victims were greeted with particular outrage. News Corp. shut down Britain's best-selling newspaper on Sunday after accusations that employees bribed law enforcement officials and illegally accessed phone records to pursue stories.

It is horrifying to consider the possibility that the victims of the 9/11 tragedy would be victimized again by an international newspaper seeking information about their personal suffering, Menendez wrote in a letter to Holder.

Democrats have long criticized News Corp. and its subsidiary Fox News for supporting the GOP; for example, the firm donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association in August. News Corp. was founded by Rupert Murdoch and owns the Fox Broadcasting Co., New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets.

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.

Transparency advocates were quick to call for congressional hearings on the matter, arguing News Corp. employees should be made to answer for their actions.

“While it is encouraging that Senator 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 Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 

“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.

British lawmakers have called for Murdoch to testify, and News Corp. on Wednesday dropped its bid to take over BSkyB after pressure from Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron already has announced an inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson, one of the country's most senior judges.

This story was updated at 5:58 p.m.

-- Brendan Sasso contributed to this post.

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