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Watchdog Group Sues Trump Administration for Details on Federal Agency Facilitating ‘Pro-Trump Propaganda’

U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Chief Executive Michael Pack

A government watchdog group is suing the Trump administration for violating federal laws requiring the disclosure of documents relating to a slew of highly questionable personnel and policy changes at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under newly installed chief executive Michael Pack. USAGM is an independent agency in charge of operating various state-funded media outlets whose collective mission is to promote the free flow of news, combat censorship, and counter disinformation, particularly in authoritarian countries by providing objective factual reporting.

Pack, an appointee of President Donald Trump who was confirmed by Senate Republicans in June despite being under an active criminal investigation by the D.C. Attorney General, is a conservative filmmaker and close ally of former presidential advisor Steve Bannon. Upon taking over the agency, Pack implemented a number of controversial changes, including firing nearly all of the organization’s top leaders in what became known as the “Wednesday Night Massacre.”

His nomination had been inert for years until Trump “singled out Mr. Pack’s nomination as part of a tirade about the Senate’s failure to confirm his nominees,” and “fumed about Democratic opposition to his chosen candidates and threatened to use a never-before-used presidential power to adjourn Congress himself so he could unilaterally install them,” according to the New York Times.

The group Democracy Forward in July filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and records that could “shed light on the nature, extent, and motivation behind these policy and staffing changes and to understand—and communicate to the public—whether they reflect reasoned decision-making and adherence to the journalistic norms that have long guided the work of USAGM and its affiliate.”

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York, (SDNY), alleged that USAGM failed to respond to the FOIA request within the time period mandated by federal law and asked the court to order the agency to produce any responsive documents.

The group is specifically seeking internal communications between Pack and several of the agency’s top executives that might reveal more about what motivated the changes at USAGM and what direction the Trump administration plans on taking the agency going forward.

“President Trump has already suggested that Pack’s leadership would help shift VOA from what he deemed the voice of ‘communists,’” Democracy Forward said in a statement obtained by Law&Crime. “Out of concern that the Trump administration is using the federally-funded broadcast agency to facilitate pro-Trump propaganda, Democracy Forward requested the following records: All records sent or received by Michael Pack discussing leadership changes at USGAM or any of its subsidiaries; All communications between Pack and Steve Bannon; All records sent between Pack and any individuals affiliated with Fox News, Breitbart News Network, or One America News Network.”

Read the full lawsuit below:

USAGM-FOIA-Complaint-10.7.20 by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.