Senate Foreign Relations advances controversial Trump nominee in party-line vote

Panel approves conservative under investigation to lead agency overseeing Voice of America

Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 21, 2020 at 2:11pm

CORRECTED, June 4 | The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a party-line 12-10 vote Thursday, advanced the nomination of Michael Pack to lead the government’s international broadcasting operations after an exceptionally heated exchange between the panel’s Republicans and Democrats about breaking committee tradition by moving forward with a nominee who is under an active criminal investigation.

President Donald Trump has made confirming Pack, who was first nominated nearly two years ago to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a priority. Trump is seen as especially wanting an ally in place to make editorial changes at Voice of America, whose coverage of China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic he has criticized.

The vote came after the committee agreed to move into a closed session for roughly 20 minutes to discuss Democrats’ concerns with the nominee. Last week, the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia disclosed to ranking member Bob Menendez of New Jersey that it was actively investigating Pack for alleged self-dealing and self-enrichment.

Menendez said Pack had transferred roughly $4.3 million in grants from a nonprofit “that he totally controls to his for-profit company that he totally controls” and had not been honest about that in his IRS tax filings or in his official responses to the committee as part of his confirmation process.

Democrats offered seven motions to postpone a vote on Pack. All were rejected in party-line votes.

[Foreign Relations chairman denounced for dispensing with Senate courtesies]

Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, then moved to cut off further motions, arguing they were dilatory or aimed at slowing down a process without any chance of changing the final outcome.

Democrats protested that their motions were not duplicative, as they each had different contingencies attached. Menendez offered an unsuccessful motion to postpone a nomination vote until Pack corrected his tax filings while Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon’s rejected motion would have postponed the vote until the committee was able to learn if any other jurisdictions such as the state of California were investigating Pack for wrongdoing.

“What is going on here is something more than just filing motions to be dilatory. The reason we’re trying to express our concerns about Michael Pack is we think it is setting a really dangerous precedent for this committee,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. “I wasn’t opposed to him; I was planning to vote for him until the investigative issues came up.”

Shaheen said she worried the committee was setting a dangerous precedent “that any nominee for a position within government can have serious issues that are being investigated, that are unresolved and we’re going to go ahead and move them, regardless of what those issues are.”

Pack is a conservative documentarian with years of experience working at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and earlier at WORLDNET, an international television network hosted by the former U.S. Information Agency, which was later merged with Voice of America.

He has collaborated with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, on multiple film projects.

If confirmed by the Senate to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Pack will oversee an annual budget of roughly $1 billion and several well-known, U.S. taxpayer-funded news outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

Correction: The secondary headline in this report was corrected on May 22 to make clear Michael Pack, if confirmed by the full Senate, would oversee the Voice of America as part of his position. He would not head VOA as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

This report was also corrected on June 4 to reflect Pack's titles and experience.