Politics

Sen. Bob Menendez accuses Trump media agency nominee Michael Pack of possible self-dealing, illegal activity

Key Points
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ranking member told the White House that President Donald Trump's nominee to lead a federal media organization could have been involved with self-dealing and illegal activity.
  • The move by Sen. Bob Menendez comes after President Donald Trump mentioned Michael Pack in a recent tirade against lawmakers who haven't confirmed a number of his nominees to key positions. 
  • The "problematic revelations" that Menendez says he discovered just before Pack's confirmation hearing in 2019 include "whether Mr. Pack engaged in inappropriate or unlawful activity related to transactions between his business (Manifold Productions) and his non-profit (Public Media Lab)." 
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 11, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Yasin Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is telling the White House that President Donald Trump's nominee to lead a federal media organization could have been involved with self-dealing and illegal activity.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the most senior Democrat on the committee that's reviewing the nomination of Michael Pack to be CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday that he has serious concerns about the man Trump picked to lead a federal organization dedicated to funding various media groups, according to a letter first reviewed by CNBC

The move by Menendez comes after Trump mentioned Pack during a recent tirade against lawmakers who haven't confirmed a number of his nominees to key positions. Formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. 

"Michael Pack, he would do a great job but he's been waiting for two years, because we can't get him approved," Trump said at a recent press conference. "If you heard what's coming out of the Voice of America, it's disgusting," he noted. Congress is currently in recess in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pack is a conservative documentary filmmaker who once worked on two films with former White House chief strategist and 2016 Trump campaign boss Steve Bannon. 

The "problematic revelations" that Menendez says he discovered just before Pack's confirmation hearing in 2019 include "whether Mr. Pack engaged in inappropriate or unlawful activity related to transactions between his business (Manifold Productions) and his non-profit (Public Media Lab)" and "whether Mr. Pack engaged in self-dealing while in a leadership position at the Claremont Institute through the awarding of a contract to Manifold" even though that company doesn't appear to have any qualifications to act as a vendor to the conservative think tank. 

The letter to Meadows also sheds light on another aspect of Pack's confirmation, which is that the Democratic committee leader has asked Pack to provide documents and answers to a variety of questions that could clear up these issues, only for Trump's nominee to respond in a "perfunctory and inadequate" way. 

"More than seven months have gone by since my initial questions. Mr. Pack has yet to provide the Committee with the requested information or to engage in a good-faith and serious effort to do so," Menendez said. 

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CNBC has previously reported on Pack and his past business dealings. 

Since 2011, Pack's nonprofit, the Public Media Lab, has sent at least $1.6 million in donations into the coffers of his own independent production company, Manifold Productions. The latest 2018 filing of his 501(c)(3) shows that Pack's organization gave Manifold Productions $775,000 for the "production of educational films," the report reads. Through contributions and grants, the group raised $875,000 that year alone. 

The nonprofit's documents say its mission is to "receive and award grants to develop, promote and support educational documentary films and film makers." Public Media Lab has only listed Manifold as the benefactor of these grants. 

Pack's media company has also seen a financial benefit from his work with the Claremont Institute, after signing a commercial fundraising contract four years ago. 

The contract was signed in 2016 by Pack's wife, Gina, who is currently listed as the vice president of Manifold Productions, along with Claremont's then chief operating officer Ryan Williams. The contract shows that Pack not only led Claremont at the time, it labels him as a director at Manifold, a company he previously founded. 

The deal to lead the fundraising efforts for Claremont was worth $75,000 to Pack's film company, which was paid in $6,250 installments each month.

The document says Manifold's work was for "charitable purposes," and included dinners, telephone solicitation, in-person meetings, and educational and social events.

Claremont's tax return for fiscal year 2016, from July of that year through June 2017, shows that Manifold Productions helped raise almost $200,000 during that time period. California's state attorney general also listed Manifold as a commercial fundraiser for Claremont in 2017.

It's unclear why Manifold was chosen to do fundraising work for Claremont.