The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, visited News Corp’s London headquarters earlier this year in preparation for a potential Senate investigation.
The Senator met with News Corp’s most senior lawyers, Lord Grabiner and John Turnbull, to discuss allegations that staff at News Corp’s British newspaper arm, News UK, routinely intercepted voicemails and paid officials for information. It is thought that the Senator may have dispatched representatives to meet News Corp staff on at least two further occasions.
The Senate committee is unwilling to launch a full-scale investigation into the alleged wrongdoing until after a series of criminal trials of former News Corp staff, due to get under way next month. However, Senator Rockefeller is understood to be keen to amass as much evidence as possible ahead of the trials, so that the Committee is in a position to launch a potential investigation once the criminal proceedings have finished.
Senator Rockefeller was one of the most vocal critics of the Murdoch empire at the time details of the phone-hacking scandal emerged in 2011. He called on US agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate “to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated”. He was particularly concerned that journalists at News Corp, which owns The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun as well as the now defunct News of the World, may have tapped into the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Last year, he also wrote to Lord Justice Leveson requesting any evidence which suggested that “troubling and sometimes criminal conduct” had occurred in the US or involved US citizens. “In particular, I am interested in learning whether any of the conduct you are investigating falls within the jurisdiction of US laws,” he said in a detailed five-page letter.
The FBI and DoJ both opened investigations into News Corp, which are still ongoing. They are thought to focus on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is designed to prevent US companies from bribing foreign officials. However, News Corp could fall foul of other laws preventing the interception of electronic messages, if journalists are found to have intercepted voicemails on US soil.
News Corp did not return requests for comment.