Politics

Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to meet next week on embattled Trump nominee Pack

Key Points
  • The chairman of the committee, Sen. James Risch, plans to call for a vote on Michael Pack, Trump's pick to be the  CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, at the meeting, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the matter. 
  • Pack's nomination was held up after lawmakers on the committee discovered questionable business dealings that could have included, as the minority chairman Sen. Bob Menendez described in a recent letter to the White House, instances of self dealing and illegal activity.   
Michael Pack
Source: US Senate

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to hold a meeting next week on President Donald Trump's controversial nominee to lead a federal media organization. 

The chairman of the committee, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, plans to call for a vote on Michael Pack, Trump's pick to be the CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, at the meeting, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the matter. 

Pack's nomination was held up after lawmakers on the committee discovered questionable business dealings that could have included, as the ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., described in a recent letter to the White House, instances of self dealing and illegal activity. The committee has been reviewing Pack's nomination since at least last year. 

The president publicly pressured senators to vote on Pack's nomination at a recent press conference. 

"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 the time. "If you heard what's coming out of the Voice of America, it's disgusting," he noted.

Formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. 

In a new letter sent to Risch on Thursday by Menendez and the nine other Democrats on the committee argued that it was inappropriate to hold a full in-person meeting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They also noted that Pack has still not provided the documents they've requested and his nomination should not be called for a vote. 

"We understand that almost 50 people will likely attend this meeting. Given the continued and unfortunate rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the DC-Maryland-Virginia region, there is no justification to bring this large of a group together unless it is to contribute to the fight against COVID-19,"  says the letter, which was first reviewed by CNBC. 

"Putting Mr. Pack up for a Committee vote under these circumstances would be a shocking departure from Committee practice and an abdication of the Committee's role to vet nominees and ensure only those who are fit to serve get our stamp of approval," it says. 

A spokeswoman for the Republican majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not return a request for comment. 

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.

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