Trump’s VOA chief paid ‘extravagantly’ to investigate critics: Watchdog: NPR

An inspector general says the probe into US Global Media Agency officials by a private law firm for former CEO Michael Pack was a ‘gross waste or waste’ of US government money. taxpayers. The law firm billed the agency more than $1.6 million. Officials examined by Pack, pictured above at a party earlier this year with Steve Forbes, were later exonerated.

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Patrick McMullan/PMC via Getty Images


An inspector general says the probe into US Global Media Agency officials by a private law firm for former CEO Michael Pack was a ‘gross waste or waste’ of US government money. taxpayers. The law firm billed the agency more than $1.6 million. Officials examined by Pack, pictured above at a party earlier this year with Steve Forbes, were later exonerated.

Patrick McMullan/PMC via Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump’s choice to oversee Voice of America’s parent agency paid a prestigious private law firm so lavish to investigate top officials of his own agency that it constituted a “gross waste or waste government resources”. a federal watchdog concluded on Friday.

Michael Pack, the former CEO of VOA-parent US Agency for Global Media CEO, awarded the contract without any bidding process to politically connected law firm McGuireWoods of Richmond, Va., which ultimately received over $1.6 million in taxpayer money.

Friday’s report from the U.S. State Department’s Inspector General found that the service provided by the law firm “duplicated existing resources and involved the payment of billable hours well beyond the salaries of federal employees who can perform the same work”. The inspector general also found “serious violations of federal law and regulation” in paying a subcontractor without any authorization.

Neither Pack nor two representatives of McGuireWoods responded Friday to efforts seeking comment on the findings.

Pack’s initial nomination for the job by Trump languished for two years; shortly after reporting to USAGM headquarters in early June 2020, he virtually declared war on his new colleagues. Pack told conservative media that, like Trump himself, he was there to “drain the swamp” of Voice of America and its sister networks.

During such appearances, Pack claimed, without evidence, that espionage opportunities were plentiful within his networks. He embarked on efforts to investigate and root out what he claimed was rampant anti-Trump bias in Voice of America coverage.

The government-owned service seeks to provide independent reporting to more than 312 million people overseas every week across multiple platforms. His advisers ordered investigations of individual journalists; it has rejected employee visa renewals for some foreign nationals, forcing them to jostle for new positions or return home, often to regimes hostile to the United States

Pack’s reviews span a period that includes the tenure of former USAGM CEO John Lansing, who is now CEO of NPR. (Per NPR protocols, top newsroom officials cannot review any network coverage that touches on USAGM due to its previous position there.)

In the summer of 2020, Pack moved quickly to fire most of its management team, including its chief financial officer, general counsel and chief strategic officer, angered that they had blocked some of its initiatives and warned that d others may be illegal. Warned that it was also likely illegal to fire them, Pack placed seven of them on administrative leave and revoked the security clearances of six of them. In August 2020, Pack commissioned McGuireWoods to investigate them.

A July 2021 review by the same government watchdog cleared officials of suspended permits of any wrongdoing. Additionally, he found that Pack had targeted them for raising red flags about his actions. The inspector general faulted USAGM for not reporting concerns about him to his office, which is responsible for conducting such reviews under federal law. But he also said the costs were extreme and against federal rules and regulations.

A lawyer for McGuire Woods charged the federal agency $930 an hour for his work; That was about 12 times the cost that would have been incurred by relying on a government prosecutor, the inspector general’s office found. “USAGM paid over 1,600 hours of McGuireWoods lawyers’ time who billed over $500 an hour,” he said.

NPR obtained documents indicating that McGuireWoods intended to bill USAGM for $2.1 million, but its actual billings eventually declined.

Pack had ties to the Richmond law firm. The conservative filmmaker had approached American judge Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni, interviewing the couple for a sympathetic documentary. John Adams, McGuireWoods’ lead partner on the USAGM contract, had been Thomas’ clerk to the Supreme Court.

McGuireWoods Contract

Beginning in late 2020, NPR published a series of articles detailing McGuireWoods’ activities for USAGM, including the law firm’s decision to dump a client who may have hindered its ability to secure the contract. lucrative.

The Open Technology Fund, a non-profit organization dependent almost entirely on USAGM for money, had requested free advice from McGuireWoods attorneys on legal matters in the spring of 2020. In June 2020, Pack decided to take over the fund, to redirect all of his agency’s services. subsidies and to dismiss its directors and its board of directors. Instead, he wanted to use the money for anti-censorship software related to Falun Gong. The fund’s lawyers shared sensitive documents with McGuireWoods as they strategized with the firms’ lawyers on a possible lawsuit to block the moves.

After reviewing the documents and dragging their feet, senior McGuireWoods partners raised concerns that the case might be too political, three people with knowledge told NPR, and the firm dropped the deal. technology fund as a client. Pack awarded McGuireWoods his contract a few weeks later.

In December 2020, Pack unveiled a plan to strip the Open Technology Fund of federal dollars and bar it from receiving government funds. In doing so, he relied on material from McGuireWoods.

The Inspector General’s report does not address this element. A complaint to the Virginia State Bar regarding McGuireWoods’ actions toward the Open Technology Fund did not result in any action against the company, according to a review of publicly available records.

Pack’s moves were internally and externally condemned; the U.S. Congress passed legislation to protect Voice of America from political interference, and in one case a federal judge ruled Pack’s actions unconstitutional.

Pack resigned at President Biden’s request just two hours after the new president was sworn in in January 2021. USAGM’s new leadership adopted the inspector general’s findings on Friday. And Biden’s nominee for USAGM CEO, former Voice of America director Amanda Bennett, is still awaiting a U.S. Senate vote.

Disclosure: This story was reported by NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by NPR editor Pallavi Gogoi. Due to NPR CEO John Lansing’s previous role as CEO of the US Global Media Agency, no NPR chief information officer or senior executive reviewed this story prior to publication.

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