Senator calls for U.S. probe into Murdoch papers

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is seen outside his central London residence July 10, 2011. AP Photo/PA

Updated at 10:02 a.m. ET

A U.S. senator has urged an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch's U.K. newspapers, in the spotlight of a phone hacking and bribery scandal, had violated U.S. law.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called for the investigation after a report surfaced Monday that 9/11 victims may have been targeted by one of Murdoch's papers, The Sun tabloid. The Mirror, a British competitor of The Sun, first reported the story.

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The Mirror quoted an anonymous source as saying an unidentified American investigator rejected approaches from unidentified journalists who showed a particular interest in British victims.

If there was any hacking of phones belonging to 9/11 victims or other Americans, "the consequences will be severe," said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

On Wednesday morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to look into whether 9/11 victims were targeted.

"There is a firestorm, if you like, that is engulfing parts of the media, parts of the police, and indeed our political system's ability to respond," Cameron said in the House of Commons. He said the focus must now be on the victims, and make sure that the guilty are prosecuted.

Police in the U.K. are pursuing two investigations of Murdoch's News International, one on phone hacking and the other on allegations that the now-folded News of the World, a Murdoch paper, bribed police officers for information.

Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, urged News International to come clean about any such payments.

"Let's not play around with legal games here: If they have names, dates, times, places, payments to officers, we would like to see them so that we can lock these officers up and throw away the key," Orde said in an interview with British Broadcasting radio.

Police officials have indicated that the bribery investigations involves about half a dozen officers.

In an about-face, Murdoch's News Corp. media empire dropped its bid to takeover lucrative British Sky Broadcasting on Wednesday ahead of a House of Commons vote in which all three major parties were to issue that very demand.

News Corp. deputy chairman and president Chase Carey said "it has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate."

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The uproar also claimed another top executive his job. News International, Murdoch's British unit, said its legal manager, Tom Crone, has left the company, but spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop declined to say if Crone had resigned or been told to leave.

But a defiant mood was evident at one News International paper, The Sun tabloid, which slapped the headline "Brown Wrong" across its front page in response to claims by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the paper had obtained confidential medical records of his younger son.

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Outrage has grown and Murdoch's News Corp.'s share price has fallen since a report last week that The News of the World hacked the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002, followed by claims of intrusion into private records by The Sun and The Sunday Times.

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Murdoch has already shut down the 168-year-old News of the World and has come to London to direct the company's efforts to get on top of its problems.

A report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, which is part of News Corp., said that Murdoch has met with advisers over recent weeks to discuss possible options including the sale of the remaining British newspapers — The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

The Journal, citing unidentified people familiar with the situation, said there didn't appear to be any buyers given the poor economics of the newspaper division.

Brown accused Murdoch's papers, including The Sun and The Sunday Times, of obtaining his confidential bank accounts, tax records and even health information about his son, Fraser, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, using fraudulent, criminal means. But, the newspaper insisted it learned of the boy's ailment from the father of another child with the same condition, and that it contacted the Browns, who consented to the story.

"We are not aware of Mr. Brown, nor any of his colleagues to whom we spoke, making any complaint about it at the time," The Sun said.

Its coverage included picture of Brown and Murdoch standing together, both grinning.

News International responded to his accusations by asking Brown for any information that would help to investigate them.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said Wednesday that he had been informed that his telephone had been hacked, but he decided not to take legal action.

"Quite frankly, why on earth should I go through some court case in which it would have inevitably involved going over all the pathetic so-called revelations that the News of the World had dug up?" Johnson said.

"Why should I, when the police had made it clear to me when they had abundant evidence?" he added.

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