News Corp May Have Paid British Premier's Aide

Prime Minister David Cameron is facing embarrassing new allegations connected to the phone hacking scandal in Britain. Cameron was criticized for hiring former News of The World editor Andy Coulson to be his communications chief. Coulson resigned in January this year. But now, there are reports that Coulson continued to receive payments and benefits from the newspaper — even while working for Cameron's government.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing embarrassing new allegations connected to the phone hacking scandal in the UK. Cameron was criticized for hiring a former "News of the World" editor, Andy Coulson, to be his communications chief.

Coulson resigned in January of this year but now, there are reports that Coulson continued to receive payments and benefits from the newspaper, even while working for Cameron. Vicki Barker has the story from London.

VICKI BARKER: In parliamentary testimony two years ago, Andy Coulson, then David Cameron's head of communications, stated flatly he had just one, sole source of income, and that was Cameron's conservative party.

But last night, the BBC reported that Coulson in fact received thousands in severance pay from Rupert Murdoch's News International all through his first year with Cameron, and that he held onto his company car and his company health insurance for three years.

Tom Watson is the opposition Labour lawmaker who questioned Coulson about his income back in 2009.

TOM WATSON: David Cameron, I'm sure, today would be embarrassed to know that three years into working for him as a spin doctor, Rupert Murdoch was paying for the car and for the health insurance of Andy Coulson.

BARKER: He wants Britain's electoral commission to investigate whether the payments could be considered donations that should have been declared. Watson sits on the committee probing the phone-hacking scandal.

WATSON: And you begin to ask the question, what have we got to do to get the truth out of News International? Every single day, there seems to be a new revelation that contradicts what's previously been said.

BARKER: Cameron could be embarrassed but not necessarily damaged, says Michael White from the left-leaning Guardian newspaper.

MICHAEL WHITE: For most people, it's now faded into the background, leaving a vague impression that Rupert Murdoch is not a white knight - well, I think voters probably thought that anyway, after they read his papers - and that David Cameron's judgment is not as good as it ought to be. They probably knew that, too.

BARKER: Besides, White says, between what was largely seen as his effective handling of the recent riots and the apparent vindication of his policy on Libya, David Cameron's having a pretty good August, in the voters' eyes.

The conservative head of the parliamentary committee looking into the phone-hacking scandal says it's not yet clear if Coulson deliberately lied to British lawmakers, but he says the panel will take up the question when it reconvenes next month.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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