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Trump appointee ousts multiple officials within US media agency: reports

President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE's pick to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) on Wednesday night ousted multiple officials overseeing news outlets that work within the organization, fueling concerns that the administration is looking to impose its views on the agency's independent, international broadcast networks. 

Michael Pack, who was confirmed by the Senate to lead the USAGM earlier this month, dismissed the heads of four news organizations, according to multiple reports.

Among them was Jamie Fly, who took over as head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in August. Fly wrote an email to colleagues late Wednesday evening that said he was relieved of his duties as president and CEO “effective immediately,” according to a copy obtained by The Hill.

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The ex-RFE/RL chief said he was leaving “with great sadness” and that leading the organization for a year “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

“I had hoped to work with you much longer and to make progress on the initiatives that we’ve begun to help ensure that RFE/RL is as impactful in the coming decades as it was over the last 70 years,” he wrote.

He said Daisy Sindelar, the current editor in chief of RFE/RL, would take over as acting president.

Pack on Wednesday also fired the heads of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia and the Open Technology Fund, an internet freedom grantee of the agency, The New York Times and CNN reported.

Libby Liu, the fired head of the Open Technology Fund, had offered her resignation and planned to leave in July but was fired by Pack anyway, according to CNN.

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The firings follow the resignations on Monday of two senior editors of the flagship Voice of America, Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara.

Pack is a conservative filmmaker under investigation for allegedly misusing funds from his nonprofit Public Media Fund for his for-profit film agency. Pack is also an ally of the far-right former senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon.

Critics of Pack’s appointment fear he will compromise the independence of the congressionally funded broadcast networks and impose partisan senior leadership.

His first appointment appears to be Jeffrey Shapiro as head of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, CNN reported. Shapiro is also an ally of Bannon's.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of the USAGM, called the firings an “egregious breach” of the independence of the broadcast networks.

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“As feared, Michael Pack has confirmed he is on a political mission to destroy the USAGM’s independence and undermine its historic role,” Menendez said in a statement Thursday. “The wholesale firing of the Agency’s network heads, and disbanding of corporate boards to install President Trump’s political allies is an egregious breach of this organization’s history and mission from which it may never recover.”

He added, “This latest attack is sadly the latest but not the last in the Trump Administration’s efforts to transform U.S. institutions rooted in the principles of democracy into tools for the President’s own personal agenda.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTrump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Dozens of progressive groups endorse Joaquin Castro for Foreign Affairs chair Castro pledges to term limit himself if elected Foreign Affairs chair MORE (D-N.Y.) had said earlier Wednesday he learned that Pack had retreated from his plan to fire senior leadership, having raised the alarm about such a purge the day before.

Yet Engel said he remained deeply concerned about the new leadership at the USAGM and was planning to keep an eye on the agency.