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Documents Cast New Doubt on James Murdoch’s Denial Of Knowledge Of Phone-Hacking

LONDON (AP) — Lawyers and former executives have cast fresh doubt on the denials made by Rupert and James Murdoch over Britain’s phone hacking scandal, raising the prospect that the media tycoon’s son could be recalled for a new grilling by U.K. legislators.

In written testimony released by lawmakers Tuesday, former Murdoch lieutenants poked holes in the dramatic testimony delivered by their ex-bosses before Parliament last month, accusing them of misrepresentations, exaggerations and more.

Claims made by the Murdochs carried “serious inaccuracies,” ex-News International lawyer Jonathan Chapman said in a letter to the House of Commons’ media committee, rejecting the notion that the two had been kept in the dark by subordinates.

“Nobody kept Mr. James Murdoch or any other News International/News Corporation executives from being in full possession of the facts,” he said.

Other former executives contradicted James Murdoch’s assertion that he hadn’t been aware of a critical piece of evidence implying that illegal eavesdropping had been far more widespread than News International had previously claimed. The evidence, contained in an email apparently addressed to a senior News of the World reporter, appeared to rip apart the company’s fiercely-held claim that the illegal espionage campaign was limited to former royal editor Clive Goodman, who’d already been jailed over the practice.

James Murdoch told lawmakers he wasn’t aware of the email at the time, but his former legal adviser Tom Crone said that he’d specifically flagged it to his attention during a brief meeting in June of 2008.

“I have no doubt that I informed Mr. Murdoch of its existence, of what it was and where it came from,” Crone said in a letter.

Some of the most scathing attacks on Rupert Murdoch came from his former law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, which accused his company of misusing its legal advice.

The London-based firm said it was asked to perform a narrow review of emails at the News of the World following an employment claim made by Goodman, who’d lost his job after pleading guilty to phone hacking in 2007.

In Parliament, both Murdochs presented this as evidence that Harbottle & Lewis had thoroughly vetted the paper — something the law firm rejected.

“There was absolutely no question of the firm being asked to provide News International with a clean bill of health,” the law firm said in a statement. It denied Rupert Murdoch’s assertion before Parliament that Harbottle & Lewis was commissioned to “find out what the hell was going on” after Goodman’s conviction, saying that if it had in fact been asked to do what the elder Murdoch described, it would have refused.

“It appears there has been some confusion in the mind of Mr. Rupert Murdoch, or perhaps he has been misinformed, about the role of the firm,” it added.

The attacks on the Murdochs’ testimony are latest to pile the pressure on News Corp., which has already had to close the News of the World tabloid and scupper its multibillion pound (dollar) bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB as the scandal rumbled on through the summer.

The controversy — which centers on allegations that reporters routinely listened to phone messages of public figures and bribed police officers to score scoops — has also claimed the jobs of Prime Minister David Cameron’s top media aide, two top Scotland Yard officials and several long-serving newspaper journalists.

The near-daily revelations about past misbehavior have largely stopped, but the focus is shifting to the issue of whether James and Rupert Murdoch told the truth when they denied knowing what was going on at their newspapers.

Former newspaper editor Paul Connew told Sky News television that the publication of the new allegations that the pair misled Parliament “has been one of the startling developments of the saga so far.” He predicted that Rupert Murdoch “will have to look very carefully at whether James’ position is tenable.”

The long-simmering scandal was first aired in 2006, when Goodman was arrested.

The correspondence released Tuesday included a 4-year-old letter by Goodman warning of what many have long suspected — and what News International has long denied — that eavesdropping was widely used at the News of the World and that senior figures there approved the practice.

The letter also alleges that Goodman was repeatedly promised his job back as long as he did not implicate anyone else at the News of the World during his trial — buttressing allegations that the newspaper group had tried to buy his silence.

“If Goodman’s letter is accurate … the whole foundation of the company’s defense for the last three years collapses,” opposition lawmaker Tom Watson told Sky. “Day by day, week by week, we’re slowly getting the facts.”

Watson was one of the committee members who said it was likely to recall James Murdoch to answer more questions about phone hacking at the News of the World, telling journalists earlier that “it is likely we will take Murdoch back.”

“There seems to be a question as to whether James Murdoch himself misled the committee,” Watson said. “We have not reached a conclusion on that.”

Committee Chairman John Whittingdale said there are no plans to recall Rupert Murdoch, who gave evidence to the committee alongside his son on July 19.

Meanwhile, police are investigating claims the News of the World illegally accessed cell phone messages and bribed police to get information on celebrities, politicians and crime victims.

News International said in a statement Tuesday that “we recognize the seriousness of materials disclosed to the police and Parliament and are committed to working in a constructive and open way with all the relevant authorities.”

It did not address the specifics of the allegations made against the Murdochs.

The Rupester Gets His Comeuppance

If Rupert Murdoch’s voicemail was hacked:

BEEP: “Rupert, this is Wendi. Guess what? Piers Morgan called and he wants me to do a whole hour about me punching that pie-thrower at Parliament! I know you’d rather I give the interview to Fox but, darling, Piers and I go way back. Please be a love and say yes. I’ll be in my private fitting room at Harrod’s if you need to reach me.”

BEEP: “Dad, this is James. Sorry I wasn’t much help the other day when that nitwit attacked you with the cream pie. As you know, ever since I was a small boy I’ve had a deathly fear of pastry. Otherwise I would have hurled myself between you and that madman. Honest.

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, this is Hugh Grant. Yes, Hugh Grant the actor. Remember how your dirtbag reporters kept hacking my phones a few years ago while I was dating that super-hot socialite whose name now escapes me? Well, you shriveled old goat, guess what. Now I’ve got your voicemail code and I’m eavesdropping on all your personal messages. Ha!”

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, this is Dr. Entwistle, the urologist. We got your tests back today and I’d like to schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.”

BEEP: “Ha, Rupert, I heard that! Hugh Grant here again and, speaking on behalf of all the celebrities whose phones got hacked by your hacks, let me just say that I hope your prostate gland is the size of a croquet ball!”

BEEP: “Rupert, this is Prime Minister David Cameron. I want to personally apologize for the inexcusable security lapse that allowed that impudent pie-thrower to smack you in the face the other day. (But bravo for Wendi, eh?) Listen, Rupe old boy, you understand that despite our close friendship and all the self-serving advice that you’ve given me since I took office, I must continue condemning your newspapers publicly every chance I get, in order to save my own political hide. Please know that I still consider you a dear chum … wait — this line is secure, right?”

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, this is Jude Law. Yes, Jude Law the actor. You might recall that I’m suing one of your papers for stealing my private phone messages. I just wanted to tell you how distressed I was to hear that your prostate apparently is now the size of a cantaloupe. Oh, and Hugh Grant says cheers.”

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, this is the executive assistant to Prime Minister David Cameron. The PM wanted me to inform you that it wasn’t he who left a somewhat careless message on your phone a few minutes ago, but rather a clever imposter who sounded exactly like him. The Prime Minister would greatly appreciate it if you erased the previous message as soon as possible, and this one as well. Thank you.”

BEEP: “This is a recorded message from the Downing Street Pharmacy. Your prescription for Cialis is ready to be picked up.”

BEEP: “Cialis! Rupert, you horndog! Eighty years old and still rattling the headboards. It’s Hugh Grant again. Isn’t this fun?”

BEEP: “Rupert, it’s Wendi. Oh my God, they want me to be on ‘The View’! Can you believe this? I’ll need the jet, darling, the big one. See you back in New York!”

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, it’s Jude Law again. I took the liberty of dropping by the Downing Street Pharmacy and getting your Cialis pills, which I intend to leave at the news desk of the Sunday Mirror, one of your archrival papers. I also informed the druggist that your prostate was now as big as a Frisbee, and he highly recommended Flomax. You should check it out.”

BEEP: “Rupert, this Prince Charles. Because of my family’s sad firsthand experience with tabloid phone-hacking, an actor acquaintance recently provided me with the code to your voicemail — hope it’s not a bother. Camilla and I watched the hearings the other day and were impressed by the right cross thrown by your wife at the pie-thrower. Also wanted to let you know that I, too, have heard good things about Flomax.”

BEEP: “Mr. Murdoch, this is Scotland Yard calling. We have reason to suspect that your private telephone numbers have been compromised — just kidding, Rupester! This is Hugh, again. I’m at Heathrow, where your lovely wife has kindly offered me a lift to New York on your jet. Small world, eh?”

BEEP: “Rupert, it’s Wendi. You’ll never guess who I just bumped into at the airport — and he’s even more handsome in person than he is in the movies! Call you later, darling.”

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

(c) 2011, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

Murdoch Gets Hit By Pie in Face, Ducks Any Real Concessions in Testimony Before Parliament

While testifying before a committee of the British Parliament with his son, James, Rupert Murdoch was pied in the face by a comedian named Johnnie Marbles — if we are to believe Mr. Marbles’ Tweets.

Describing the incident, The Guardian referred readers to the Urban Dictionary definition of “clusterfuck.” As Prime Minister David Cameron returned from a foreign trip amid scandal, the Murdoch family was served a slice of humble pie, or an eye for a pie.

Talking Points Memo highlights the action, including footage of Rupert’s wife Wendi stepping in to deflect the “foam hacking.”

During their testimony, the Murdochs repeatedly pleaded ignorance, denying any prior knowledge of journalistic impropriety. As James began to answer the committee’s first question, Murdoch Sr. interrupted him. “I would just like to say one sentence: This is the most humble day of my life.”

Asked later whether he felt responsible, however, Murdoch curtly said “no” and brushed off calls for his resignation, claiming, “I’m the best person to clean this up.” Both Murdochs offered their apologies, though neither accepted blame for the conduct of their employees or a comparison with the “willful blindness” of former Enron executives. Of the now-defunct News of the World tabloid, which enjoyed an average circulation of 2.8 million subscribers, Rupert merely conceded, “it was so small in the general frame of our company.”

Brooks, who testified after the Murdochs left, was soft-spoken and earnest during the hearing, showing none of the irreverence trumpeted in recent profiles. She said that she learned of the allegations of “voicemail interceptions” — her chosen phrase, which sounds a lot better than phone-hacking — only after other newspapers broke the story two weeks ago.

Though outwardly deferential to the MPs, Brooks refused to give clear answers on several questions, including whether she was on vacation when hired private detectives hacked Dowler’s phone, as News Corp officials originally claimed. She described her relationship with Prime Minister David Cameron as “appropriate.” “I have never been horse riding with the Prime Minister,” she said, alluding to recent allegations in the press, in one of the more lighthearted moments of the hearing.

Just in case you’re actually British or care more about endemic corruption than Jude Law’s voicemail, Sir Paul Stephenson, the now disgraced former Metropolitan police commissioner, revealed today before the Home Affairs Select Committee that former News International journalists represent nearly a quarter of the Met’s public affairs office.

Check our live-blogging for more detailed coverage, including the subsequent testimony of arrested former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks.

Jessica Stein and Samuel Knowles contributed to this story

Live-Blogging of Murdoch Testimony Before Parliament

Below is the transcript of The National Memo’s live-blogging of News Corp testimony delivered before Parliament on July 19, 2011. Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corp; his son, James Murdoch; and Rebekah Brooks, a top lieutenant who resigned from her post last week, spoke before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

9:56

Matt Taylor: Sorry for the late start folks; Murdoch and son have been testifying for a few minutes now.

9:56

Avi Zenilman: This is a live-blog of the British Parliament’s interrogation of Rupert Murdoch.

10:02

Matt Taylor: Murdoch and son play the humble card, deeply apologetic.

10:03

Matt Taylor: Rupert says he was “clearly” lied to about phone hacking by subordinates.

10:03

Matt Taylor: He plays the corporate titan card; I have 53,000 employees, can’t be bothered to keep tabs on everything.

10:05

Matt Taylor: The younger Murdoch wants to testify in favor of his father but Parliament wants to hear from the elder Murdoch.

10:08

Matt Taylor: Being questioned now about trading favors for political endorsements, which Murdoch has been found essentially guilty of in the past.

10:10

Matt Taylor: MP’s are incredulous at the extent to which James has apparently shielded Rupert from the goings-on with the scandal for years.

10:11

Matt Taylor: Murdoch gets most upset when asked whether 9/11 victims have been hacked; doesn’t seem to realize Brits being hacked is just as big a deal when in front of the British Parliament.

10:12

Matt Taylor: “We have apologized profusely and unreservedly” says James.

10:15

Matt Taylor: “We are a company that takes transparency very seriously’ says the younger Murdoch. Nice.

10:17

Matt Taylor: Decision to close The News of the World was because Rupert Murdoch was “ashamed,” no commercial reasons, he says.

10:24

Matt Taylor: Lots of pleas of ignorance; the strategy here seems to be to bury the MPs in corporate language about transparency, audits, and compartmentalization of responsibility.

10:26

Matt Taylor: Every employee at News Corps receives an ethical code of conduct, they say. There are “workshops” conducted around the world to keep things clean.

10:29

JCONASON: James M: Need to rethink “codes of conduct.” Five decades late but hey! As he says “it’s a good thing.” Besides, they’re being “pro-active.” [via Twitter]

10:29

Avi Zenilman: Once again — welcome readers! This is National Memo’s live-blog of the Murdoch hearings, currently happening on a television near you. To join in the conversation via twitter, add the hashtag #murdochnm and your comments will go up!

10:35

Matt Taylor: Recap: Rupert Murdoch began hearing by calling this “the most humble day of my life.”

10:41

Matt Taylor: MP Sanders asks about “willful blindness,” knowledge you could and should have had but chose not to have; compares News Corps to Enron. James Murdoch gets testy, ducks.

10:43

Matt Taylor: Now being quizzed about what kind of media prep they did; first time testifying like this for both Murdochs (somehow).

10:44

Matt Taylor: Rupert says he’s “not really in touch” with his editors at his various newspapers, The Wall Street Journal excepted.

10:48

Avi Zenilman: That’s actually not true (that he’s “not in touch” with everyone except for The Journal). I worked at The Daily until March of this year, and he was famously in touch with the stories we published.

10:58

Matt Taylor: Intense grilling about who made payments and when as relates to the initial phone hacking incidents, and how the Murdochs could possibly not have authorized them.

10:59

Matt Taylor: To be clear: these are payments to the journalists jailed in previous years for phone hacking.

10:59

Matt Taylor: Rupert Murdoch says he still trusts Rebekah Brooks.

11:01

Matt Taylor: MP says News of the World was “offered up” as an alternative to try to save Rebekah Brooks’ job at News Corps; what about all the lost jobs?

11:02

Avi Zenilman: Matt, describe a little for people at work who can’t watch TV how the Murdochs are responding–what’s the tone of their interrogation, how is their body language different? What kind of vibe are they giving off?

11:03

Matt Taylor: James promises to try to “find reemployment” for laid off workers.

11:05

Matt Taylor: The Murdochs’ body language has been relatively confident, if also humble and a bit stiff; they have mostly been very careful to remain polite and helpful, but the younger Murdoch nearly lost it when News Corp was compared to Enron.

11:07

Matt Taylor: “I don’t want to be legalistic and I’m not a lawyer,” offers up James.

11:10

Avi Zenilman: He says he doesn’t want to be “legalistic” right before he go on a long legalistic shpiel.

11:14

Matt Taylor: James keeps insisting he can’t go into details in order to avoid usurping police investigation. Good move, lecturing MPs on law and order.

11:33

Matt Taylor: Younger Murdoch admits to reading incriminating emails; Rupert dodges again via reference to “police inquiries.”

11:38

Matt Taylor: Asked if it was “remotely possible” editors knew about phone hacking, Rupert Murdoch says he doesn’t know but that Les Hilton appointed News of the World’s last editor to find our “what the hell” was going on.

11:38

Avi Zenilman: James Murdoch to parliament: “I understand completely your frustration!”

11:39

Matt Taylor: Rupert Murdoch insists he wasn’t “kept in dark”–his son says there’s a difference between being kept in dark and delegating responsibility.

11:40

Matt Taylor: MP asks about nepotism; does Rupert regret elevating his son, perhaps beyond his ability?

11:44

Matt Taylor: most open and clear society in world is Sinagpore, Rupert says

It’s the “cleanest” because everyone makes lots of money, or something.

11:44

Matt Taylor: He’s doing lots of banging of his hand on the table for emphasis.

11:45

Matt Taylor: Rupert asked whether there’s a “cultural” problem in organization; do people withhold undesired information in order to curry favor?

11:46

Matt Taylor: No one wants to deliver bad news to Angry Old Rupert.

11:47

Matt Taylor: Does Rupert think there’s pressure within the organization to break the law for scoops? Rupert says “that’s completely wrong, there’s no excuse for breaking law” (bangs fist on table for 300th time).

11:47

Matt Taylor: Rupert gets personal: I was brought up by a father who was not rich but a “great journalist.”

11:53

Matt Taylor: Last questioner up now.

11:55

Matt Taylor: Chaos has broken out, hearing suspended; did someone pass out?

11:57

Matt Taylor: Rupert Murdoch was attacked. Hearing is suspended.

11:57

Matt Taylor: The attacker is unidentified.

11:58

Matt Taylor: It may have been more of a lunge than anything else; someone made a move on Rupert, updates when they become available.

11:58

Matt Taylor: Hearing should return in 10 minutes.

12:09

Matt Taylor: It was a pie/foam/cream attempt.

12:10

Matt Taylor: Wife Wendi was there to protect him.

12:11

Matt Taylor: Apparently the man in question was comedian Jonnie Marbles. http://tpm.ly/rohVlp

12:13

Matt Taylor: Rupert Murdoch says there’s no evidence at all of 9/11 victim hacking.

12:15

Matt Taylor: Some reports say Rupert Murdoch was hit “squarely in face” with pie; he has removed jacket at this point.

12:15

Matt Taylor: Hearing has resumed.

12:15

Matt Taylor: Murdochs are asking if they are conducting a global review of their conduct.

12:15

Matt Taylor: James refers back to their “Code of conduct” though he doesn’t even attempt to explain how it failed so badly in phone hacking scandal, what’s changed since then.

12:16

Matt Taylor: Action shot of Wendi Murdoch stepping in to defend her husband. http://abcnews.go.com/images/International/abc_murdoch_fight_nt_110719_main.jpg

12:46

Matt Taylor: Rebekah Brooks is testifying now; former CEO of News International , one-time editor of News of the World

12:46

Matt Taylor: She calls “what happened at News of the World pretty horrific.” She claims she didn’t see verifiable evidence of phone hacking until 2010

12:53

Matt Taylor: Brooks conedes that she was “aware that we used” private dicks in getting stories.

12:59

Matt Taylor: As her superiors did, Brooks is denying knowledge of most of the hiring and payment decisions that were made. Where is the mid level manager who apparently masterminded this whole process?!

1:21

Sam Knowles: Piers Morgan comes under fire for admissions in his book.

1:22

Avi Zenilman: Sam Knowles has taken over for Matt Taylor and will be live-blogging the rest of Rebekah Brooks’s testimony.

1:24

Sam Knowles: Brooks insists that stories start with reporters, avoiding specific questions about when she was involved in the Milly Dowler investigation.

1:27

Sam Knowles: At the time the Dowler story was breaking, Brooks claims that she believed News of the World was acting appropriately, “respecting the privacy of the families”—a claim she now says will sound ridiculous. Her questioner agrees with this assessment.

1:30

Sam Knowles: When does Brooks say she first heard the allegation that News of the World had hacked Dowler’s phone? Two weeks ago, with the rest of us.

1:34

Sam Knowles: “I think it seems incredible that you, as the editor, were unaware of such fundamental issues,” an MP asks.

1:34

Sam Knowles: “I really, really do want to understand what happened,” Brooks says, unconvincingly.

1:39

Sam Knowles: Brooks reminds the committee that her phone was also hacked by reporters.

1:43

Sam Knowles: Brooks evades questions about whether or not she was on vacation at the time of the phone hacking, as News Corp officials had previously stated.

1:54

Sam Knowles: Did Brooks ask reporters on the Dowler story how they received their information? She will not say, but lists the levels of management that would have been involved in confirming the veracity of their claims.

2:05

Sam Knowles: Brooks asks MP to share the source of an allegation regarding police informants. Room shares a laugh at the expense of The Evening Standard.

2:13

Sam Knowles: Brooks: “I’ve never been horseriding with the Prime Minister.”

2:26

Sam Knowles: Brooks has completed her testimony for the day, asking the committee to invite her back at a later date.

2:28

Sam Knowles: This concludes The National Memo’s live-blogging of the Murdochs’ and Brooks’s testimony before Parliament. Be sure to check our website for complete coverage of the News Corp phone-hacking scandal.

2:28

Sam Knowles: Thanks for joining us!