House Homeland Security chairman wants investigation of News Corp.

The scandal enveloping the media conglomerate News Corp. crossed the Atlantic on Wednesday as several Senate Democrats called for investigations into allegations 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. 

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Rep. Pete King (N.Y.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, became the first Republican to call for a probe when he asked the FBI to investigate allegations of bribery and wiretapping against News Corp.

“It is revolting to imagine that members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in the pursuit of yellow journalism,” King wrote.

“The 9/11 families have suffered egregiously, but unfortunately they remain vulnerable against such unjustifiable parasitic strains. We can spare no effort or expense in continuing our support for them.”

Boxer and Rockefeller urged Attorney General Eric Holder and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro to investigate News Corp. 

“The reported allegations against News Corp. are very serious, indicate a pattern of illegal activity and involve thousands of potential victims,” the two senators wrote. 

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

The controversy surrounding News Corp. has shaken the political world in London, where the News of the World was still the best-selling Sunday newspaper when it was shuttered Wednesday over accusations that employees bribed law enforcement officials and illegally accessed phone records to pursue stories.

In the U.S., the calls for investigations by Democrats bore a political tinge.

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 Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets.

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 News of the World might have breached the privacy of 9/11 victims were greeted with particular outrage. 

“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.

“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 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 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 before Parliament, and Prime Minister David Cameron already has announced an inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson, one of the country’s most senior judges.

Brendan Sasso contributed to this report, which was posted at 4:29 p.m. and updated at 8:07 p.m.