The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted along party lines to move forward with the nomination of filmmaker Michael Pack to lead the federal agency that oversees the Voice of America and other government-backed international broadcast outlets.
The vote was 12-10 to advance the nomination after a contentious meeting. Pack would lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
The committee was to vote on the nomination last week, but it was delayed. In the meantime, the office of the D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, said that it was investigating Pack’s non-profit. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) indicated that the investigation had to do with whether Pack directed non-profit funds to his for-profit production business, as well as other issues.
President Donald Trump had singled out Pack’s nomination when he criticized Democrats for what he said was an effort to block key appointees in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He tied Pack’s nomination to criticism of Voice of America, which he accused of being “disgusting toward our country,” while the White House accused it of spreading Chinese propaganda. VOA director Amanda Bennett, however, pushed back against the criticism and outlined how they have captured all sides of the story of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump went to Capitol Hill and attended the weekly lunch for Republican senators, where he again lashed out at the VOA and urged senators to confirm Pack, according to The Washington Post.
Sen. James Risch (R-ID), the chairman of the committee, made a reference to the D.C. attorney general investigation, but said that they would hold the nomination only if the Department of Justice asked them to do so. “That has not happened here,” he said.
He noted that the nomination had been pending just shy of two years.
Menendez said that Pack had not addressed what he described as “serious vetting issues,” and that his responses to their questions had been “perfunctory and self serving.”
Critics of Pack worry that he will alter the U.S. broadcast outlets into more of a propaganda outlet for the Trump administration, particularly during an election year and at a time when there continue to be worries about Russian interference in the election.
At his confirmation hearing last year, Pack was asked about the issue of maintaining independence from the desires of the White House.
“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,” Pack said. “Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined.”
CNBC reported last year that at least $1.6 million from his non-profit, Public Media Lab, went to his company, Manifold Productions.
Pack next must be confirmed by the full Senate.