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Former Aide To British Prime Minister To Be Retried On Bribery Charge

By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times

LONDON — A former top aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, already convicted of conspiring to hack into private cellphones, is to be retried on bribery charges, prosecutors said Monday.
Andy Coulson will face a jury again to defend himself from allegations that, as editor of one of Britain’s most notorious tabloids, he and a reporter paid police officers for a phone directory of the royal household. The first jury was unable to agree on a verdict on those charges last week, resulting in a mistrial.

But the panel did find Coulson guilty of conspiring to tap into private cellphone messages. Investigators say that journalists at the News of the World, before and during Coulson’s tenure as editor, hacked into the phones of hundreds of people in order to land scoops and discover details of the private lives of celebrities, politicians, and even crime victims.

Coulson, 46, faces sentencing for that conviction later this week. He could spend up to two years in prison.

He was the only person convicted in a months-long trial of seven people accused of wrongdoing in the phone-hacking scandal. The defendants were variously accused of intercepting voicemail messages, paying public officials for information, and trying to thwart the police investigation into the allegations.

The most prominent of the seven on trial, Rebekah Brooks, Coulson’s predecessor as editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World, was acquitted of all charges. Brooks, a close confidante of Murdoch’s, was forced to resign as head of his British newspaper empire when the scandal erupted three years ago upon revelations that the hacking victims included a 13-year-old kidnapped girl.

Coulson’s conviction is a major embarrassment for Cameron, the prime minister, who hired Coulson as his chief spin doctor. Cameron has apologized in Parliament for what he acknowledges was a bad decision, but insists that Coulson misled him about his record as editor of News of the World.

Cameron’s political foes have criticized him for bringing a criminal into the heart of 10 Downing St.

Coulson is to be retried on the bribery charge along with former reporter Clive Goodman, who has already served a prison term for hacking into the cellphones of aides to the royal family.
During the trial, Goodman admitted on the witness stand that he had hacked into the phones of Prince William and his wife, the former Kate Middleton, nearly 200 times.

AFP Photo / Justin Tallis

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How Many Murdoch Lieutenants Were Complicit In Phone-Hacking?

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire is shaking, as new evidence of lying and snooping and kickbacks at his top British tabloid has cost his company billions of dollars and may take down his son James, the heir to the political-media machine that owns a huge chunk of the British news landscape. No one knows yet how this saga of cozy political relationships and journalistic malpractice will affect Fox News, Murdoch’s most powerful American media asset: it might empower the money-making machine to continue doing what it’s doing (after all, Bill O’Reilly didn’t listen to your voice mail), yet it also might re-open the questions about the behavior of all News Corp. executives — and there’s a grand jury investigation that Fox News chief Roger Ailes has no desire to revisit.

But first, what happened in Britain: It started to get bad on Monday, when an investigation by the Guardian newspaper revealed that the News of the World, the aggressive Sunday tabloid with millions of readers that has been at the center of a “phone-hacking” scandal for years, had not just eavesdropped on the phone messages of the rich and famous: In 2002, it hired a private investigator who illegally hacked into the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a teenage girl who went missing and was later discovered murdered. The investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, allegedly deleted messages, which gave the Dowler family and police false hope she was still alive. (The editor at the time — Rebekah Brooks — now is Murdoch’s top news executive in Britain, and her successor had been the top media adviser to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.)

The blows have not stopped since, dizzying in their speed and scope. Advertisers like Coca-Cola and Ford started pulling out, Vanity Fair reported that an editor had authorized payoffs to the cops (which had been blamed for under-investigating in the first place), the British parliament held hearings and one lawmaker demanded that James Murdoch be investigated for allegedly destroying crucial evidence at a storage facility in India, Prime Minister Cameron denounced the behavior from Afghanistan just as news began to leak out that the phones of dead soldiers’ mothers had been hacked, the Guardian reported that Brooks knew that one of her star reporters was spying on a senior police detective investigating a murder case because the suspects told him to do so, and — worst of all for the billionaire baron — British politicians are now pushing to stop News Corp’s $15 billion+ purchase of the BSkyB satellite TV company.

This whole nightmare — and the scrutiny now being showered on Murdoch’s top lieutenants — may not bode well for Roger Ailes, the former Republican Party media strategist who now sits astride Fox News and has been the subject of a series of critical magazine profiles. More important than enduring run-of-the-mill bad press, he also is at risk of getting charged with lying to federal agents: In February, The New York Times uncovered an affidavit describing a tape recording where Ailes ordered publishing executive Judith Regan to lie to federal agents about her relationship with a friend of Rudy Giuliani.