Politics

Sen. Bob Menendez calls for State Department inspector general to investigate federal media CEO Michael Pack

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Key Points
  • Sen. Bob Menendez is ratcheting up the pressure on newly installed U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack to explain his recent purge of executives and its board members. 
  • Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the State Department's acting inspector general to investigate whether Pack's termination of many longtime agency officials broke a rule.
  • The Broadcasting Board of Governors enacted a regulation that prohibits anyone from outside the independent news organizations under USAGM from making such changes. 
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, speaks to members of the media as he walks through the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Sen. Bob Menendez is ratcheting up the pressure on newly installed U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack to explain his recent purge of executives and its board members. 

In a letter on Tuesday, Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the State Department's acting inspector general, Stephen Akard, to investigate whether Pack's termination of many longtime agency officials broke a rule that was established by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. 

The board had previously enacted a new regulation, which, through what they call a "firewall," prohibits anyone from outside the independent news organizations under USAGM from making such changes. Menendez notes that Pack, as the new chief executive, needed to give some form of a justification to fire the executives and board leadership. 

"While the rule states that the 'firewall does not prevent a USAGM CEO or Board from undertaking the same type of direction and oversight that those in equivalent leadership positions in an organization overseeing other reputable news organizations may provide, in a manner consistent with the highest standards of professional journalism,' that exception does not appear to apply to Mr. Pack's actions on June 17, as he presented no cause for firing the network leaders, dissolving their boards, and reassigning the standards editors," Menendez says. 

Pack was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month. President Donald Trump, who nominated Pack, has been critical of Voice of America, one of the USAGM media entities. 

Since Pack pushed out the heads of media organizations under the USAGM, including leaders of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, along with numerous executive board members, Democrats and some Republicans have started pushing back.

Along with Menendez, Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, both D-N.Y., chairs of the House Appropriations and Foreign Affairs committees, have called on Pack to provide documents explaining why he chose to terminate and then replace various career officials at the agency. Sen. Marco Rubio recently said in a statement to CNBC that he was "deeply concerned about the recent actions by CEO Michael Pack" and that he will be closely monitoring the situation. 

Menendez has repeatedly clashed with Pack both before and after he was confirmed.

After Pack made his changes at the agency, the New Jersey lawmaker criticized the moves. While Menendez's committee was reviewing Pack's nomination, he warned the White House that Pack, who has ties to former chief strategist Steve Bannon, may have been involved with unlawful activity between his production company, Manifold Productions, and his nonprofit known as the Public Media Lab. The USAGM CEO was a conservative filmmaker before he was confirmed in June to lead the agency. 

Pack's nonprofit has been under investigation by the Washington, D.C., attorney general for potential self-dealing. 

Menendez's move to call on the State Department's inspector general to investigate Pack comes as both he and Engel are investigating the firing in May of the department IG, Steve Linick.  

Prior to his removal, Linick was reportedly investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife's alleged use of government resources.  

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