A key Senate panel Thursday is set to consider President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the federal agency that oversees Voice of America among other entities.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Pack’s nomination has been under consideration for nearly two years, held up in part because of concerns from Democrats over alleged financial self-dealing in his businesses.
Last week, the committee’s vote again was delayed after the Washington attorney general’s office opened an investigation into whether Pack’s use of funds from his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, was unlawful and whether he improperly used those funds to benefit himself.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member on the committee, protested in an open letter that Republicans are appearing to move forward with the vote.
“Instead of taking a step back and seeking a bipartisan solution, you are now planning to put Mr. Pack up for a Committee vote despite the fact that his business dealings are the target of an active law enforcement investigation and reportedly the subject of law enforcement subpoenas, and despite his continued refusal to correct false statements he made to the IRS,” Menendez and other Democrats wrote to Chairman Jim Risch.
In a separate letter, Committee Democrats also expressed concern the Senate meeting also would not be livestreamed for the press and the American public.
VOA has requested comment on both letters from Risch.
Trump nominated Pack to lead USAGM almost two years ago and has expressed frustration about the wait, saying it is due to Democratic obstruction. The president previously threatened to adjourn Congress to push the nomination through.
The White House accused Democrats of stalling the nomination last week following reports of the Washington, D.C., attorney general investigation, writing “the President stands behind Michael Pack and is disappointed, but not surprised, that Do-Nothing-Democrats have once again decided to throw political mud on a public servant’s clean record.”
In recent weeks, Trump has criticized VOA for its news coverage of China during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about the Pack nomination last week, Trump said, “Voice of America is run in a terrible manner. They’re not the Voice of America. They’re the opposite of the Voice of America.”
VOA Director Amanda Bennett defended the U.S.-funded news agency’s mission and reporting in a statement last Friday.
“We export the First Amendment to people around the world who have no other access to factual, truthful, believable information,” she said.
“That’s why more than 80% of our 280 million audience in 47 languages in more than 60 countries say they find our work credible,” she added.
USAGM oversees five U.S. civilian broadcast networks, which include VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Arabic-language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).
In his confirmation hearing last September, Pack addressed concerns he would attempt to impose a political bias on USAGM agencies, including VOA which is mandated by US law to be objective and balanced in its reporting.
“The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say. Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined,” Pack told the committee.