Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. is still investigating whether the phones of Sept. 11 victims were hacked by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., relatives of those killed in the terrorist attacks were told by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder met yesterday in Washington with nine family members at the Justice Department at their request. Norman Siegel, a New York lawyer who represents kin of terrorist attacks’ victims, said that while Holder expressed commitment to the probe, he wouldn’t say whether there is evidence that News Corp.’s reporters obtained phone records.
“He said they had sufficient predicate at this point to open an investigation and categorize it as a preliminary investigation,” Siegel told reporters after the meeting. “We didn’t get the specificity we would have liked but did not realistically expect that.”
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, confirmed the substance of the meeting.
The family members sought the meeting last month after reading a report in London’s Daily Mirror, Siegel said. The newspaper said that News Corp. reporters unsuccessfully tried to have a former New York police officer obtain phone records of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The 75-minute session yesterday in Washington included five officials from the Justice Department and three from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including Kevin Perkins, the FBI’s assistant director overseeing criminal investigations, Siegel said.
Holder said he found the allegations of hacking to be disturbing and that if true there would be “full justice,” said Jim Riches, whose 29-year-old son Jim, a New York City firefighter, died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“They’ve assigned a lot of people to the case so it shows a good faith effort on their part,” Riches said.
News Corp. chief Murdoch told U.K. lawmakers last month that he has “seen no evidence of these allegations.”
Suzanne Halpin, a spokeswoman for the New York-based company, said News Corp. stands by Murdoch’s earlier statement. She declined to comment further.
The FBI and Manhattan federal prosecutors have also looked into allegations that a News Corp. unit, News America Marketing, hacked the website of Princeton, New Jersey-based Floorgraphics Inc., according to William Isaacson, a lawyer for Floorgraphics who was questioned in an initial interview with prosecutors last month.
New York Post
News Corp.’s New York Post told employees to retain files related to any attempts at unauthorized access to third-party data, or illegal payments to government officials made to obtain information, according to a memorandum reproduced on The Poynter Institute’s Romenesko website.
News Corp. is facing three police investigations in the U.K. as well as a Parliamentary probe regarding phone hacking by reporters at the former London tabloid News of the World. The company shut the News of the World and scrapped its bid for the rest of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc after a report that its journalists deleted voice mails from a murdered schoolgirl’s phone.
Fourteen people have been arrested, including Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive officer of News Corp.’s News International unit, and ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, who was Prime Minister David Cameron’s press chief until January.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.
Holder told the families yesterday that the hacking claims were being investigated by the Justice Department and FBI agents in New York and Washington, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
Siegel said he told his clients to look through newspaper articles and television broadcasts for any private details about family members that could only have been obtained through hacking.
Siegel said that for the probe to be complete, investigators would need cooperation from family members, who could furnish cell-phone numbers their relatives used. Investigators have yet to ask for the numbers, Siegel said. The victims’ relatives urged Holder to expand the investigation to include whether computers were hacked for private information.
Investigators told the family members that another way for the government to look for evidence of hacking would be to go directly to News Corp. for the information and “get documents from that universe,” Siegel said.
“We are not here today accusing News Corp. of any wrongdoing,” Siegel said. “Because of what was apparent and widespread in the U.K., it’s logical to ask, ‘Did it happen in the USA.’”
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