Senator Jay Rockefeller: Investigate Rupert Murdoch

In another blow to an unraveling empire, Sen. Rockefeller wants to know whether Murdoch broke U.S. laws.

David Moir, Reuters / Landov

With all the hype phone-hacking has brought the U.K. government committee overseeing the media, its counterpart in America may be looking to get into the mix.

On Tuesday, the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport—a formerly obscure body where members could score free theatre tickets—issued an explosive and much-anticipated judgment on News Corp.’s conduct in the hacking saga. The report drew worldwide headlines when it declared that Rupert Murdoch, its chairman, is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” It also accused his son, James, the former head of the company’s U.K. division, of an “astonishing” lack of curiosity and found that there had been a cover-up inside the company.

In the wake of these findings, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller has intensified his own campaign to pressure News Corp. from the halls of Congress. Yesterday, he wrote to the British judge presiding over an inquiry into the country’s hacking and media problems and asked for any evidence the inquiry has uncovered about potential wrongdoing on 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 letter reads.

Rockefeller heads the Senate commerce committee, which oversees the Federal Communications Commission. His committee has the power to hold hearings and subpoena evidence. He has been calling for probes into News Corp. by U.S. authorities since the hacking scandal reached a head in July, but this is his most officially minded push to date.

In the letter, addressed to Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who has been tasked with the public inquiry in Britain, Rockefeller requested details on both phone-hacking and payments to public officials, which could put News Corp. in breach of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt practices act that prohibits U.S. companies from making illegal payments to foreign officials. The U.S. government has already launched a probe into the latter, and Murdoch confirmed last week that News Corp. is cooperating.

In language that seemed directly targeted at FCPA statutes, Rockefeller suggested U.K.-based executives of News International would have likely been aware of large illegal payments. "I would be very concerned if evidence emerged suggesting that News Corporation officials in New York were also aware of these illegal payments and did not act to stop them,” he wrote.

FCPA suits usually result in corporate fines.

Piling onto what has been criticized as an overly politicized atmosphere surrounding the parliamentary report, Rockefeller struck a populist tone in explaining part of the motivation behind his requests. "In a democratic society, members of the media have the freedom to aggressively probe their government's activities and expose wrongdoing. But, like all other citizens, they also have a duty to obey the law," he wrote.

"Evidence that is already in the public record clearly shows that for many years, News International had a widespread, institutional disregard for these laws."

Meanwhile, the News Corp. board reportedly held a conference call to discuss the parliamentary committee’s findings yesterday and voiced “full confidence in Rupert Murdoch’s fitness.”