Murdoch hacking scandal crossing the Atlantic

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WASHINGTON - Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., July 19 called for a congressional investigation of charges that Rupert Murdoch's News of the World journalists attempted to bribe a New York police officer to obtain phone records of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Said Rockefeller, "I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans. If they did, the consequences will be severe."

Rockefeller's statement was the clearest evidence yet that the scandal engulfing billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and the New York Post, is crossing the Atlantic.

The evidence stems from a story in the London Daily Mirror which quotes a former New York police officer, now a private investigator, who charged that he was offered money to steal the phone records of 9/11 victims. The officer claims that the person who contacted him "wanted the phone numbers of the dead as well as details of the calls they made and received in the days leading up to the attacks"  on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in which nearly 3,000 people died.

During hearings before a committee of the British House of Commons, July 19, James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, said, "Those are incredibly serious allegations.... It's appalling to think that anyone associated with one of our papers would do that."

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, promised a full investigation of the Daily Mirror charges during an emergency House of Commons meeting July 20. "I am confident the Metropolitan police will get to the bottom of this," Cameron said during the raucous session.

But there is plenty of reason to think Cameron's confidence is misplaced. Scotland Yard and the London police are deeply implicated in the crime itself and efforts to hush it up. Indeed, Cameron denied during the session of the House of Commons that he or his lieutenants met with Scotland Yard or London police to pressure them to squelch the investigation of the phone hacking.  But he did not deny that he  met more than two dozen times with News Corp. executives, including Rupert Murdoch himself, from May 2010 until today.

One of Murdoch's most trusted henchmen, Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones, owner of the Wall Street Journal, resigned July 15 amid charges that he orchestrated the coverup starting in 2007 when Murdoch brought him in to deal with the scandal.

Hinton's attempts to quiet the outrage reportedly ranged from destruction of evidence by News Corp. and the police to huge cash payments, including a 600,000 pound settlement of a complaint by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that Murdoch hackers had spied on his phone messages and personal bank account.

Hinton hired the law firm Harbottle & Lewis to conduct an internal inquiry. It produced a report now called the "Harbottle file," revealing that hacking was a routine practice by many journalists on the staff of News of the World, not the work of "a single rogue correspondent."

Yet Hinton testified twice before a committee of the House of Commons that the hacking was limited to only one person, Clive Goodman, who covered the royal family. It is a crime to lie to a parliamentary committee and Goodman served a prison sentence.

Murdoch rewarded Hinton for his role in the coverup by appointing him CEO of Dow Jones. It was also convenient to get Hinton out of the UK and across the Atlantic to Dow Jones headquarters in New York.

"To risk any perception that Number 10 (Downing Street) was seeking to influence a sensitive police investigation in any way would have been completely wrong," Cameron said.

Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour opposition, accused Cameron of a "catastrophic error of judgement" in hiring Andy Coulson as his spokesperson even though he had resigned as editor of News of the World amid charges he had approved the hacking. Coulson later stepped down as Cameron's spokesman and was arrested earlier this month for his role in the hacking and coverup.

Murdoch, himself, made clear his crony ties to 10 Downing Street in his testimony July 19.

Labour MP Jim Sheridan asked Murdoch about his visits with the Prime Minister. Murdoch replied, "I was asked to come through the back door ... I was invited for a cup of tea for the support we provided Mr. Cameron. I also went in the back door when I visited Prime Minister Gordon Brown."

Photo: Murdoch in 2009. World Economic Forum // CC 2.0