House

Dem: Whistleblowers warn of broadcast board coup

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is raising concerns about a possible “coup” at the government agency charged with overseeing U.S.-funded broadcasting worldwide. 

In a letter to members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) dated Tuesday, Engel said “whistleblowers” had warned of an imminent effort by the Trump administration to oust the board’s current CEO, John Lansing.

Under that alleged plot, Lansing would be replaced by a candidate who would seek to instill a pro-Trump bias at U.S.-backed news outlets abroad, Engel wrote.

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According to Engel, the Trump administration plans to replace Lansing, who has headed the board since 2015, with André Mendes, the BBG’s chief technology officer and acting director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

From there, Engel alleges, Mendes would dismiss the rest of the board of governors — a move that Engel says would violate current laws governing the BBG.

“In short: the President can’t replace the CEO. He can’t appoint an interim replacement to fire the rest of you,” Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote.

“And if Mr. Lansing leaves his position before a Senate-confirmed successor is in place, it’s up to the Board of Governors to appoint a new one.”

The BBG is responsible for overseeing U.S.-funded outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.

Mendes, who is set to leave the BBG on March 30 for a job at the Commerce Department, purportedly expressed frustration at a recent meeting that he was not made CEO of the board the last time the post was vacant in 2015, according to Engel.

Mendes previously served as interim CEO in 2015, before Lansing took office.

Engel said he had heard from “multiple sources” that Mendes has been working with Jeffrey Shapiro, a BBG senior adviser and former Breitbart contributor, and Jennifer Locetta, the White House’s associate director of presidential personnel, on a plan to take control of the board ahead of his planned departure.

“They have allegedly prepared a memorandum for the White House outlining this scheme and are pushing for Presidential action — contrary to law — to replace Mr. Lansing with Mr. Mendes before the end of the month,” Engel wrote.

Engel said he had been told that Mendes and Shapiro had “made it clear in recent months their intention to remake the BBG into an agency aimed at promoting the Trump Administration’s agenda.”

“Such a scheme would represent a shocking abuse of authority and would reveal an effort by this Administration to turn the BBG into a propaganda machine,” he wrote.

Voice of America was created in 1942 in the midst of World War II to broadcast pro-democracy news in Europe to combat Nazi propaganda. But the network and other BBG properties have emerged as more traditional news outlets in recent decades.

Mendes told CNN on Tuesday that Engel’s letter was intended “to elicit fear and prey on partisan politics.” He said he has no plans to overthrow the BBG’s leadership, though he acknowledged speaking with some lawmakers about potentially becoming the board’s interim CEO in Lansing’s absence.

The concerns expressed in Engel’s letter are not the first regarding the Trump administration’s plans for U.S.-backed news networks. Politico reported in January 2017 that President Trump had sent two aides to Voice of America’s studios, stoking fears among some employees there that the Trump administration could try to remake the network into a propaganda machine.

Tags Broadcasting Board of Governors Broadcasting Board of Governors Donald Trump Eliot Engel Eliot Engel Public broadcasting in the United States Radio Free Asia Radio Free Europe Voice of America Voice of America

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