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Trump-appointed global media chief sued over allegations of pro-Trump agenda

Trump-appointed global media chief sued over allegations of pro-Trump agenda
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Five suspended officials in the U.S. Agency for Global Media filed a lawsuit Thursday against the agency and its Trump-appointed CEO over allegations executives are breaking the law by promoting a pro-President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE agenda.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accused CEO Michael Pack and other leaders of violating the “firewall” that protects international broadcasters from political interference.

The suspended officials allege that Pack and others have investigated and punished journalists for negative stories about Trump, as well as stories about Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE and the racial justice protests across the U.S.

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NPR first reported about the lawsuit on Thursday. 

The lawsuit asserts that Pack, who was confirmed by the Senate in June, and other executives are preventing news agencies from reporting objectively by withholding funds and refusing to extend visas for non-Americans who work for the agencies. Pack’s actions, they allege, have affected the agencies’ ability to function.

"Basic tasks like ordering toilet paper and contracting for cleaning services — essential during a pandemic — languished," the lawsuit says. "Numerous essential contracts lapsed. At least two of the agency's news organizations — Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — were brought to the brink of not being able to pay their employees."

The plaintiffs argue that this violates the agency’s “firewall,” which according to its website “prohibits interference by U.S. government officials, including the USAGM's Chief Executive Officer, in the objective, independent reporting of news by USAGM networks."

The suit cites specific incidents involving Samuel Dewey, a senior adviser to Pack, who pressed the chief of Voice of America’s Urdu service about coverage of Biden and Black Lives Matter protests and why the damage caused by rioting was not further reported on. His investigations into the Urdu service led to the suspension of an editor and cutting ties with four contractors. 

"In recent weeks, Dewey asked Voice of America leadership to report to him which Voice of America journalists were working on every story being developed at the network — something he called a chain of custody,” the lawsuit alleged. 

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The lawsuit also said at an editorial meeting last month, the “managers at Voice of America killed multiple stories on political issues specifically because of the increased scrutiny, the investigations, and the risks of retaliation by Defendants."

The officials’ lawyer said the suit was filed on behalf of current employees who fear retaliation if they speak up. The suspended five officials themselves are seeking to be reinstated, but Pack has said their leadership led to a lack of security, claiming without evidence that it opened up the agency to foreign spies.

Pack called the lawsuit "totally without merit" in a statement to The Hill.

"Every decision and action made by me and implemented by my senior leadership has been correct and lawful," he said.

"USAGM leadership will not allow any effort to distract attention away from the real issues of an agency that has been poorly run and mismanaged for years, to the detriment of national security and the American people and the agency's ability to perform its important mission of promulgating American ideals such as democracy and freedom around the world," he added.

The agency denied to NPR that Dewey wanted to impact the agencies’ election coverage. 

"At no time did Mr. Dewey, or any other USAGM Front Office official, seek to be involved in planning election (or any) coverage, or to otherwise 'steer' such coverage," Jonathan Bronitsky, a senior agency aide to Pack, told NPR. 

— Updated on Oct. 12 at 12:33 p.m.