Senator Asks U.K. Media Ethics Probe for Signs of News Corp. Misconduct in U.S.

1:26 AM PST 05/03/2012 by Georg Szalai

Jay Rockefeller in a letter to the Leveson Inquiry asks if there is evidence that Rupert Murdoch's conglomerate "used hacking, bribing or other similar tactics when operating in the U.S."

Fallout from the phone hacking scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. continues to threaten spilling over into the U.S.

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has reached out to the Leveson Inquiry into U.K. media ethics to find out if News Corp. broke any U.S. laws, the Guardian reported.

The chairman of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation wrote to judge Brian Leveson, who oversees the U.K. ethics probe that last week questioned the News Corp. chairman and CEO and his son and deputy COO James Murdoch, to ask if he has found any evidence about phone hacking and other questionable practices in the U.S., according to the paper.

The communication, which opens up a potential new political front in the hacking scandal, comes as U.K. lawyer Mark Lawson has eyed potential phone hacking lawsuits in the U.S. Last year, Rockefeller asked U.S. authorities to probe whether victims of the 9/11 attacks were targeted by News Corp. newspapers via hacking in one of the first signs that the hacking scandal had reached U.S. soil.

"I would like to know whether any of the evidence you are reviewing suggests that these unethical and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved U.S. citizens," the Guardian quoted from the Rockefeller letter. The senator said he wants to know if any News Corp. business had "used hacking, bribing or other similar tactics when operating in the U.S."

The Guardian said that the Senate committee could set up official Senate hearings into the scandal and subpoena witnesses and documents from News Corp. So far, there is no talk of such actions though, it said.

Rockefeller is also focusing on the potential that some of the unidentified potential victims of phone hacking may be Americans. "I am concerned about the possibility that some of these 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.

Rockefeller also asked the Leveson Inquiry for any evidence that News Corp. executives based in New York may have been aware of illegal payments made by the News of the World to British police and public officials. "I would be very concerned if evidence emerged" in this regard, he said.

A News Corp. spokeswoman declined comment.

Meanwhile, late Wednesday, credit ratings agency Moody's said that a U.K. parliamentary panel report that had questioned Murdoch's fitness to run a major international company doesn't affect its debt ratings on News. Corp. It cited the "significant cash balance and strong free cash flow generation" of the conglomerate, saying that they mitigate "the uncertainty of additional financial fallout from the phone hacking scandal."

Said Moody's: "Ultimately, upon cutting through the highly politicized hyperbole, and honing into the potential total financial impact of the proceedings, so long as we believe that the company is able to mitigate potential costs by its significant liquidity and financial flexibility, there is no change warranted in its credit ratings or stable outlook."


Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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