A nonprofit organization that is run by President Trump’s nominee to lead a federal media agency with oversight of Voice of America and other news outlets is under investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general, a senior U.S. senator said Thursday.
Michael Pack is a conservative filmmaker with ties to Stephen K. Bannon whom Trump has picked to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The attorney general’s office is investigating whether Pack’s use of funds from his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, was “unlawful and whether he improperly used those funds to benefit himself,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Thursday.
Menendez said the D.C. attorney general informed the committee of the active investigation earlier Thursday, the same day that Pack was scheduled to face a key panel vote on his nomination until it was postponed. Pack has been under scrutiny for tax issues since at least September, when CNBC reported that at least $1.6 million in donations from his nonprofit were sent to his independent production company, Manifold Productions.
“For nearly eight months, Mr. Pack has refused to provide the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with documents it requested that get to the heart of the matter that the OAG is now investigating, or to correct false statements he made to the IRS,” Menendez said in a statement to The Washington Post confirming the investigation. “His steadfast refusal to honor the commitment to transparency that he gave the committee at his nomination hearing forces us to ask whether Mr. Pack was actively hiding wrongdoing from the committee.”
According to Menendez, the D.C. attorney general’s office has asked the Foreign Relations Committee for documents to aid in its investigation.
Menendez said the committee’s chairman, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), should not have put up Pack for a key panel vote due to the nominee’s “refusal to come clean with the Senate on his vetting issues.” He urged Risch to pause the confirmation process.
“I plan to do everything in my power to cooperate with this critical law enforcement request, and I urge Chairman Risch to do the same,” Menendez said.
The White House and Risch’s office did not return an immediate request for comment.
The development comes as Trump has taken a special interest in this normally obscure nomination and has ramped up criticism of Voice of America. In April, when he railed against Democratic senators for dragging out confirmation of his nominees, the president singled out Pack in particular.
“He’s my nominee for the CEO of the … Broadcasting Board of Governors. And he’s been stuck in committee for two years, preventing us from managing the Voice of America. Very important,” Trump said last month.
Trump continued: “And if you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. What — things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and he’d do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years. Can’t get him approved.”
The president has also pushed Senate Republicans in private, urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speed up consideration of Pack’s nomination in a recent conversation, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. The New York Times first reported on Trump’s private pressure.
The White House also attacked Voice of America last month, claiming the federally funded but independent news service had promoted Chinese government propaganda in its reporting about the coronavirus outbreak. The critique was found on the official White House website, flagging its brief statement with a provocative headline: “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda.”
Receive the most important pandemic developments in your inbox every day. All stories linked in the newsletter are free to access.