Throughout his six-decade career working on three continents, Rupert Murdoch has used his media properties to advance the prospects of politicians whose policies help his business interests. Whether it was Margaret Thatcher’s union-busting in the 1980s or Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to put Fox News on Time Warner’s cable system in the 1990s, Murdoch went all-out for leaders who allowed him to protect and expand his corporate empire.
Since Election Day, Murdoch, now the executive chairman of Fox News, has personally nudged the network in a more pro-Trump direction, sources tell me. That effort included anointing Trump-friendly Tucker Carlson as the successor to Megyn Kelly as host in the 9 p.m. slot. Fox News staffers are also grumbling that segments now have to fit a “pro-Trump narrative,” one insider told me. Trump seems to be returning the goodwill: He asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC commissioner and tweeted praise for Fox News. He’s even taken policy ideas from the network. Now Murdoch may be poised to reap a much bigger win from a Trump administration action.
That’s because on Saturday Trump oversaw the firing of Preet Bharara, the U.S attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, whose office is in the middle of a high-profile federal investigation of Fox News. The probe, according to sources, is looking at a number of potential crimes, including whether Fox News executives broke laws by allegedly obtaining journalists’ phone records or committed mail and wire fraud by hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Sources told me that prosecutors have been offering witnesses immunity to testify before a federal grand jury that’s already been impaneled.
Trump’s decision to fire Bharara ignited speculation that it was designed to blunt investigations like the Fox News probe. In November, Trump had promised Bharara he could remain in the job. But on Friday, he reversed course and requested Bharara’s resignation along with 45 other Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys. (Adding to the intrigue, Trump’s prosecutor purge came less than 24 hours after Sean Hannity said on Fox News that Trump should “purge” the Justice Department of Obama-appointed officials.)
Given that Fox News is Murdoch’s most profitable division, the prospect of indictments is a serious problem. “They’re really worried,” one source close to the network said. Another insider said that Fox News executives considered the investigation “political” because Bharara had been appointed by Barack Obama. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. According to the Times, Trump’s short list to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.
Considering Mukasey’s close relationship with Ailes, he would surely come under pressure to recuse himself from the Fox News probe if he were appointed by Trump to succeed Bharara. “I have no comment,” Mukasey said when I reached him on Sunday evening and asked if he planned to do so, should he get the job.