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Former Ambassadors File Lawsuit to Stop Trump Appointee’s ‘Wholesale Decapitation’ of State-Funded News Orgs

Michael Pack

Several former U.S. ambassadors have asked a federal court to stop a Donald Trump-appointed agency head’s attempted “wholesale purge” of the officers and directors who managed four government-funded but otherwise independent news operations. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., alleges that newly confirmed Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack unlawfully removed the leaders of the Open Technology Fund (OTF), Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Collectively, the mission of the USAGM networks is to promote the free flow of news, combat censorship, and counter disinformation, particularly in authoritarian countries with objective facts. A “firewall” embodied in statutes, regulations, and contract provisions, serves to prevent the organizations from devolving into promoting a partisan agenda.

Pack, who was confirmed to the role early this month despite an active criminal investigation by the D.C. Attorney General, wasted no time ousting top officials in what was quickly dubbed the “Wednesday night massacre.”

But according to the filed complaint, the organizations targeted by Pack are private, non-profit entities staffed by non-government employees and Pack had no authority to terminate them. The attempted clean sweep of leadership constituted a breach of the organizations’ “legally protected independence” from improper political interference.

“Mr. Pack’s actions this past week constitute the most egregious breach of that firewall in history,” the lawsuit stated, alleging that his conduct violated the law in two specific ways.

“First, with respect to Open Technology Fund—an independent nonprofit dedicated to advancing global Internet freedom— Pack lacks any legal authority whatsoever to remove its officers or directors. The statutory authority and bylaws on which Mr. Pack purported to rely do not remotely confer any such authority,” the complaint stated.

The lawsuit also alleged that Pack’s attempt to freeze funds and remove officers and directors from the other organizations constituted an “impermissible breach of the firewall.”

“It is hard to conceive of a more serious breach of the organizations’ legally protected independence than the wholesale decapitation of their leadership by an ideologically-oriented maker of political films, installed by the President for the stated purpose of altering the organizations’ content,” said the complaint.

Pack previously made a name for himself as a conservative filmmaker and has been a close ally of former presidential advisor Steve Bannon. His nomination had been inert for years until last month when 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.

Read the full lawsuit below:

VOA Injunction Request 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.