House Dem wants probe of White House call to FCC chair over Sinclair-Tribune merger

House Dem wants probe of White House call to FCC chair over Sinclair-Tribune merger
© Anna Moneymaker

A top House Democrat is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) inspector general to look into a phone call that the White House counsel made to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last month about the now-dead merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment Overnight Energy: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan MORE (D-N.J.) sent a letter Monday to Inspector General David Hunt asking him to see whether Pai made “material omissions and failed to disclose” the July 17 call in a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee late last month.

Pai disclosed the call in a Senate hearing last week, saying White House counsel Don McGahn had asked about the status of the proceeding.

"Recent statements by Chairman Pai disclosing a call with White House Counsel Donald McGahnDonald (Don) F. McGahnElection agency limps into 2020 cycle The Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report MORE regarding the Sinclair-Tribune merger during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing last week - taken together with other relevant events - could very well constitute concealment or coverup and require further investigation," Pallone wrote to Hunt.

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An FCC spokesperson dismissed the assertions made in Pallone's letter.

"This is yet another absurd partisan attack from House Democrats," the spokesperson said. "Chairman Pai said that he would act consistently with the Commission’s ex parte rules, and that’s exactly what he’s done with respect to the status inquiry in question. Given the FCC’s actions involving the Sinclair/Tribune merger, it is unfortunate that House Democrats are still trying to beat this dead horse, especially after their prior accusations of favoritism towards Sinclair were shown to be false.”

Pallone, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked Pai at the panel’s July 25 hearing to disclose in the agency’s record any conversations he had with the White House about the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

Pai assured him that he would, in accordance with the FCC’s disclosure rules governing contacts with outside parties.

Pai said last month that he had “serious concerns” with the merger and referred it to an administrative law judge, a move that ultimately led Tribune to walk away from the deal.

The surprise announcement from Pai came after Democrats had repeatedly accused him of giving Sinclair special treatment; Hunt opened an investigation into those suspicions.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE has been a staunch ally of Sinclair, which broadcasts editorials that often reflect some of the administration’s policy positions.

Pallone also pointed out Monday that Pai had evaded a reporter’s question at a press conference earlier this month about whether he’d spoken with the White House.

“For these reasons, I request that your office review this matter to bring the facts surrounding this omission to light,” Pallone wrote. “I further request that your office review the phone records and emails of all relevant FCC employees and FCC Commissioners to ensure that others at the Commission did not have relevant communications with those at the White House that similarly were not disclosed.”