Murdoch’s Well-Connected Point Man on the News Corp. Hacking Probe

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The man tapped by Rupert Murdoch to oversee News Corp.’s internal probe of wrongdoing by the company has some elite qualifications. Viet Dinh went to Harvard and Harvard Law School, clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, served as assistant attorney general early in the Bush administration, co-authored the Patriot Act, and now teaches corporate law at Georgetown University Law Center.

He also is best friends with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who is leading the U.S. investigation into the company.

Dinh and Bharara met their first week of freshman year at Harvard when they landed in a seminar together. “The topic of the day was whether the framers of the Constitution conceived man as good or evil,” Dinh told me in 2007 when I interviewed him for a profile of Bharara, who was then leading the Senate investigation into the firing of U.S. attorneys by Bush administration political figures. “We ended up debating and arguing through the night until we went to breakfast and argued some more and then went to lunch,” Dinh said.

From there they became good friends. Bharara was best man at Dinh’s wedding. Professionally, they went to opposite parties but have stayed close. “He’s been my best friend through Whitewater and through impeachment and through the USA Patriot Act, and God knows what kind of hurt he took from his Democratic friends,” Dinh said in my interview with him, praising Bharara even as he took the lead on the U.S. Attorneys investigation. “So I’m glad there’s a little bit of payback time now,” Dinh said.

Dinh met James Murdoch in 2003 and was made an independent board member of News Corp. in 2004. Dinh was due to report on the internal probe to the News Corp. board on Tuesday when it held its first meeting since the phone hacking scandal exploded this summer in Britain, and since Scotland Yard and the British Parliament opened investigations into the company. The internal investigation at News Corp. is being overseen by former U.S. anti-trust expert Joel Klein, who is reporting to Dinh.

Bharara’s federal investigation is looking at whether News Corp. engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior, including allegations of computer hacking and anti-competitive behavior by its advertising arm, News America Marketing. Bharara is also looking into unsubstantiated, second-hand, single-sourced allegations by a British tabloid that a News Corp. paper tried to obtain phone records of 9/11 victims.

It is unclear whether either Dinh or Bharara considered recusing himself from the investigations because of their friendship. The U.S. Attorney’s manual allows for discretionary recusal in cases where there may be an appearance of a conflict. And it is not uncommon for prosecutors to be friends with members of the defense bar. News. Corp is listed on the NASDAQ exchange, whose rules say that independent directors cannot have a relationship that ‘would interfere with the exercise of independent judgment in carrying out the responsibilities of a director.’

Dinh declined to be interviewed for this story, as did Bharara. A spokesman for Dinh said, “There have been no discussions between Professor Dinh and Mr. Bharara on the matter.” Neither man, nor spokespeople for News Corp. or the U.S. Attorney’s office would say whether News Corp. has agreed to share its findings with American investigators.

Back when he was defending Bharara’s investigation into the U.S. Attorney firings in 2007, Dinh said, “Preet can be trusted to follow the facts wherever they are and take appropriate action, because he is one who cares very deeply, obviously, about the U.S. attorneys’ offices.”

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