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Cameron drags opponents into hacking scandal

| Thursday, July 21, 2011

LONDON -- Prime Minister David Cameron dragged his political foes into Britain's phone-hacking scandal at a raucous session of Parliament on Wednesday, distancing himself from a former aide at the heart of the allegations and denying his staff tried to thwart police investigations.

Cameron, who flew back from Africa early for the emergency session, defended his decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, saying Coulson's work in government had been untarnished.

Coulson was arrested this month in connection with allegations that reporters at the tabloid intercepted voice mails of celebrities and crime victims to get scoops. Cameron reminded lawmakers that Coulson has yet to be found guilty of anything.

But the prime minister also made his strongest effort yet to distance himself from his former aide.

"With 20/20 hindsight, and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he wouldn't have taken it," Cameron told lawmakers who packed the House of Commons. "You live and you learn, and believe you me, I have learnt."

Cameron then turned the spotlight on the Labor Party, saying that most British politicians had tried to court media baron Rupert Murdoch -- whose News Corp. owned the defunct News of the World and still owns three other British newspapers.

The prime minister warned that Labor should be careful before casting stones about hiring choices. Former Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications director, Alastair Campbell, was accused of exaggerating government documents in the lead-up to the Iraq war, and the party's former special adviser Damian McBride quit amid allegations he circulated scurrilous rumors about political opponents.

"You've still got Tom Baldwin working in your office!" Cameron exclaimed, referring to Labor's political strategist who has been accused of illegally obtaining private banking information in 1999 while working as a journalist for The Times, another Murdoch paper. Baldwin could not be reached for comment.

Labor was in power when the phone hacking scandal broke in 2005 over a News of the World story about Prince William's knee injury -- information that royal household staff believed could have only come from illegal voicemail intercepts. The scandal has since embroiled top politicians, police and journalists.

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