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Four U.S. lawmakers--including House and Senate committee chairmen--are calling for investigations into a News Corp. (NWS, NWSA) phone-hacking scandal, with one suggesting that alleged violations may have occurred in the U.S. and go beyond reporting tactics in Britain.
On Wednesday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) asked the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether anyone at the company violated antibribery laws amid allegations that the company paid law-enforcement officials for information. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R., N.Y.) asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether reporters at a British paper owned by a News Corp. subsidiary tried to obtain phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "through bribery and unauthorized wire tapping."
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency would review the letters and declined to comment further. An SEC spokesman declined to comment. He said he wasn't aware of any earlier cases in which the SEC had brought charges against a news company involving payments for information.
On Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said that he didn't expect the agency to get involved in the ongoing investigation in the U.K. He said that the FCC's mass-media bureau would "do its job if issues arise."
The three Senators raised questions about possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an antibribery law that U.S. authorities have enforced with vigor in recent years.
"I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding allegations that News Corporation and its subsidiaries bribed foreign law-enforcement officials for information to advance their business interests," Lautenberg wrote to the SEC and the Justice Department. He said that the law forbids bribery of foreign government officials, and may "apply to all company employees regardless of their nationality or where they reside or do business."
Boxer and Rockefeller wrote to the SEC and DOJ that "the reported allegations against News Corporation are very serious, indicate a pattern of illegal activity, and involve thousands of potential victims. It is important to ensure that no United States laws were broken and no United States citizens were victimized."
The two lawmakers also asked whether any U.S. citizens' phone records were hacked in what they say may have been illegal access of phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This is going to be a huge issue," Rockefeller told reporters on Wednesday as he left a vote on the Senate floor. He said that he may hold hearings in his committee, although jurisdiction would extend to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the event that an inquiry focused on criminal activity. "My bet" is "we'll find some criminal stuff," he told reporters, specifying he meant related to hacking in the U.S. He declined to elaborate.
King, who represents a district that he said lost more than 150 people in the Sept. 11 attacks, wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller that "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." He asked that the FBI "immediately commence an investigation of News Corporation."
-By Siobhan Hughes, Dow Jones Newswires; (202) 862-6654;
--Brent Kendall contributed to this article.