The New York Times has an excellent scoop out today that could mean trouble for Fox News’s Roger Ailes. It’s sure worth following.

The paper reports that former News Corporation book publisher Judith Regan (and now her former lawyers) said that Ailes asked her to lie to the feds about her relationship with Bernie Kerik in order to help Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. He said, she said, you say. But the potential bombshell here is that Regan recorded the conversation.

The Times notes that News Corporation gave Regan a big settlement shortly after she filed her suit:

It is unclear whether the existence of the tape played a role in News Corporation’s decision to move quickly to settle Ms. Regan’s lawsuit, paying her $10.75 million in a confidential settlement reached two months after she filed it in 2007.

Needless to say, it’s a no-no to obstruct justice by telling people to lie to federal investigators. If there’s a recording here and it says what Regan’s lawyers say it does, Ailes could be a goner, although the Times quotes a Columbia prof raining on that idea:

Depending on the specifics, the conversation could possibly rise to the level of conspiring to lie to federal officials, a federal crime, but prosecutors rarely pursue such cases, said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia University law professor and former federal prosecutor.

“In the scheme of things there are other priorities, and these are not necessarily easy cases to make,” Mr. Richman said.

It’s unclear to me why it would be a difficult case to make if there’s a recording of a powerful public figure like Ailes urging Regan to lie to federal officials, although it would hardly be surprising if the tape doesn’t exist anymore as part of the $11 million settlement.

Until and if we see a transcript, this will be stuck in a he said, she said, because—in what I’d guess was part of said $11 million settlement—News Corporation has a letter from Regan in which she says Ailes didn’t urge her to lie. Or at least that’s what News Corporation says the letter says. Regan’s lawyer seems to disagree, at least to some extent:

In a statement released on Wednesday, a News Corporation spokeswoman did not deny that Mr. Ailes was the executive on the recording.

But the spokeswoman, Teri Everett, said that News Corporation has a letter from Ms. Regan “stating that Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.”

“The matter is closed,” Ms. Everett said.

Ms. Everett declined to release the letter, and Ms. Regan’s lawyer, Robert E. Brown, said the News Corporation’s description of the letter did not represent Ms. Regan’s complete statement.

How the Times learned of Regan’s tape adds to the intrigue (emphasis mine):

The new documents emerged as part of a lawsuit filed in 2008 in which Ms. Regan’s former lawyers in the News Corporation case accused her of firing them on the eve of the settlement to avoid paying them a 25 percent contingency fee. The parties in that case signed an agreement to keep the records confidential, but it does not appear a court order sealing them was ever sent to the clerk at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the records were placed in the public case file.

One of Regan’s former lawyers says in a sworn statement that “a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.” The Times reports the lawyer says that senior executive was Ailes himself.

It’s really too bad that the Times doesn’t publish these documents for everybody to see. It quotes from them, but putting these things online should be a core function of journalists these days. The Times apparently has them but notes that we can’t get them. Since it examined them, they “have subsequently been taken out of the public case file.”

Still, this is an excellent piece of reporting by the Times.


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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.