Attorney General Eric Holder reassured about a dozen family members of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks that the Department of Justice is vigorously investigating allegations that employees of News Corp. may have hacked into phones used by victims and/or their family members.
"(Holder's) words with regard to the allegations, he said they were 'very disturbing,' and that it is a priority for him and the DOJ," said Norman Siegel, the New York-based attorney who accompanied the group to Washington on Wednesday.
But Siegel made clear that he has no evidence that any News Corp. employees hacked any American's phone in connection with 9/11. Nor did Holder or Assistant FBI Director Kevin Perkins, who heads the Bureau's Criminal Investigative Division and was present for the session, provide such evidence.
One of the 9/11 family members who attended the meeting, and who spoke to Fox News on condition of anonymity, said the federal officials provided next to no details on the status of the probe during the 75-minute session. This individual said Holder described the probe as a "preliminary investigation," but that the attorney general added that this does not mean the investigation is at the beginning stages.
Holder told the group government lawyers believe three sections of the U.S. criminal code may have been violated -- but otherwise gave them no information on how many people are working on the case; whether there are any suspects, or have been any arrests; or whether a grand jury has been empaneled.
"We didn't get the specificity that we would have liked, but did not realistically expect," Siegel told reporters afterward. "We are not accusing anyone of wrongdoing at this point. Hopefully the allegation turns out to be not true."
To assist the ongoing probe, Siegel said the family members will provide old cell phone numbers used by their loved ones, as well as computer data, to the Justice Department. In turn, Siegel said, he expects government lawyers to contact cell phone carriers like Verizon and AT & T to seek evidence of potential hacking.
News Corp. is the parent company of the Fox News Channel and the FoxNews.com website.
Siegel had earlier told reporters that "one" 9/11 family member has expressed concern about about the publication of "certain personal information about their son that potentially only could have been ascertained through some hacking."
Jim Riches, a retired New York Fire Department deputy chief whose firefighter son, Jimmy, was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, did not identify himself as the individual Siegel was referring to. But Riches, standing alongside Siegel, told reporters: "I received many phone calls after 9/11 concerning body parts and my son...These are things that people don't realize that 9/11 families had to go through. And I would hate to know that people were listening in on these personal phone calls."
Holder agreed earlier this month to meet with the 9/11 family members, after allegations surfaced in the British media suggesting that News Corp. employees violated the privacy of 9/11 victims and/or their family members. The allegations formed only the latest twist in a burgeoning scandal that has already seen the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World, the resignations and arrests of multiple News Corp. executives, editors, and reporters, and the death of a key whistleblower, in which authorities ruled out foul play.
The affair has also damaged the reputation of Scotland Yard, amid allegations that British police officers routinely accepted bribes from News Corp. personnel to facilitate the hacking of phones belonging to celebrities, murder victims, and others. News Corp. founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James, a top News Corp. executive, have both appeared before official inquests conducted by the British parliament, where they denied personal knowledge of the wrongdoing but pledged to redress it.
James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show "The Foxhole." His latest book is "A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century" (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016).