Democrats and GOP rep urge feds to examine phone-hacking scandal

A chorus of Washington lawmakers — including at least one Republican — are calling for federal authorities to investigate claims that News Corp.’s questionable journalistic practices extended beyond the U.K. to the U.S.

On Wednesday, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller, citing a report that ran in the Daily Mail that employees at News Intl.’s now-shuttered News of the World tabloid solicited a New York police officer to gain access to the phone records of 9/11 victims from the days leading to the attacks. The Daily Mail quoted the account of an unidentified source who said that the cop, now a private investigator, revealed that he had been approached by the journalists with an offer to buy the information, but he turned them down.

“It is revolting to imagine members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in 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.”

King is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Meanwhile, several Democratic lawmakers have called for SEC and DOJ investigations not just of the 9/11 victim claims but of whether News Corp. violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits payments intended to influence the act or decision of a foreign official.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC chair Mary Schapiro on Wednesday, citing allegations that News Intl. employees bribed members of London’s Metropolitan Police to gain access to private information about key public figures.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) sent his own letter to Holder and Schapiro, adding that “further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corp.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also is calling on Holder to investigate the 9/11 victim claims, writing in his own letter that given “the large scope of Scotland Yard’s investigation, which reportedly includes a list of 3,870 names, 5,000 land-line phone numbers and 4,000 cellphone numbers that may have been hacked, I believe it is imperative to investigate whether victims in the United States may have been affected as well.”

A News Corp. spokeswoman said the company had no comment.

The calls for investigations make it all the more doubtful that News Corp. can contain the corporate crisis to the U.K. Public interest groups that have long been critical of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch’s reach have seized upon the scandal. One org, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called Wednesday for congressional hearings and for lawmakers to subpoena News Corp. employees to testify.

Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and it’s in the interest of regulatory agencies to pay attention to the requests of lawmakers who have some oversight. Spokeswomen for the DOJ and the SEC had no comment and said that it is their policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Coming out of the Senate chamber following a vote on Wednesday, Rockefeller told CNN, “My bet is we’ll find some criminal stuff … This is going to be a huge issue.”

In the wake of the hacking scandal, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) said that she has made inquiries with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Apple, Google and others about their security safeguards. A spokesman, Ken Johnson, said that so far they have not discovered “any red flags,” and Bono Mack “wants to make sure this contagion doesn’t spread to the United States.” He added that they have had discussions “with senior officials at News Corp. in order to get assurances that this problem is unique to the U.K. They have been completely cooperative and agreed to follow up with us.”

Observers say that politically, News Corp. has been left exposed, unable to make a definitive statement of the parameters of the scandal and to draw on supportive voices. While Murdoch has plenty of allies on Capitol Hill, what the company faces is the “typical Washington thing — where [politicians] wait and see what the facts are,” said Judy Smith, president and CEO of crisis communications firm Impact Strategies.

“I think it is going to be difficult to get people to come forward only because they don’t know all the facts yet,” she said.

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