Trump Appointee Who Wanted To Turn Voice Of America Into Breitbart Spent Millions Of Taxpayer Dollars Investigating His Own Staff

from the holy-shit dept

Remember Michael Pack? That's the Steve Bannon protégé who Trump appointed last year to head the US Agency for Global Media. USAGM is the organization that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting and the Open Technology Fund. It was an open secret that Pack was appointed to turn those widely respected, independent, news organizations into pure Breitbart-style propaganda outfits. He wasted little time causing a huge fucking mess, firing a ton of people in a manner so upsetting that even Republican Senators were concerned. It also turned out that many of the people he fired... he legally had no right to fire.

In the fall, things got even more ridiculous as it came out that Pack had been investigating VOA journalists to see if they were "anti-Trump" and then moved to get more power to directly dictate how VOA should be reporting. One of President Biden's first official acts in office... was to fire Pack, who laughably claimed that his being fired was "a partisan act" that would harm the credibility of USAGM.

Meanwhile, the latest story, as revealed by NPR, is that Pack spent millions of tax payer dollars investigating staff throughout the various organizations to try to come up with reasons they could be fired. This was in response to the courts pointing out he couldn't just randomly fire people in these organizations.

Last summer, an appointee of former President Donald Trump was irate because he could not simply fire top executives who had warned him that some of his plans might be illegal.

Michael Pack, who was CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media that oversees Voice of America, in August suspended those top executives. He also immediately ordered up an investigation to determine what wrongdoing the executives might have committed.

Instead of turning to inspectors general or civil servants to investigate, Pack personally signed a no-bid contract to hire a high-profile law firm with strong Republican ties.

The bill — footed by taxpayers — exceeded a million dollars in just the first few months of the contract.

And hiring an outside law firm is an abuse of his position, according to the Government Accountability Project, which discovered the details of this contract via a FOIA request:

"The engagement constitutes gross mismanagement, gross waste of taxpayer dollars and abuse of authority," David Seide of the Government Accountability Project, wrote in a letter Thursday to Congressional committees with oversight of the committee.

"The 'deliverables' provided by McGuireWoods are — always were — of questionable value," he wrote. "The investigations produced nothing that could justify the kind of discipline Mr. Pack sought to impose on current USAGM employees he did not like — he wanted them fired (they have since been reinstated). Investigations of former employees also yielded nothing."

It seems almost cartoonish what Pack did here:

The group's analysis of the new documents, shared with NPR, found the law firm McGuireWoods charged more than $320 per hour for 3,200 billable hours from August through October alone. It devoted five partners, six associates, two lawyers "of counsel," two staff attorneys, seven paralegals, three case assistants, 14 other timekeepers, and 11 "outsourced attorneys" to the work.

[....]

The invoices reflect that McGuireWoods' legal team, among other duties, reviewed social media posts, "news articles relating to Michael Pack" and an "[Office of Inspector General] audit on Hillary Clinton's email breach."

It truly is insane how obsessed Trumpists are over Hillary's emails.

But the main crux of the "investigation" appears to have been to cook up any reason at all to justify Pack firing all the non-Trump people he wanted to fire:

The nonprofit group's review found the McGuireWoods team spent nearly 2,000 hours in a massive review of documents and emails, 400 hours on fact investigation, and nearly 700 hours on what was labeled as "analysis/strategy." The records also show the legal team conducted voluminous legal research on federal ethics regulations and U.S. statutes. Such tasks for federal departments are typically, though not exclusively, undertaken by government attorneys, inspectors general, and human resources employees.

Incredible.

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Filed Under: donald trump, intimidation, investigations, michael pack, propaganda, taxpayers, usagm, voice of america
Companies: voice of america


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:12am

    QOP, party of small government, sure went big on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Uh, what am I doing here?, 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:33am

    Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

    Here you've successfully stolen the election, Congress and President, and all that you can write of is TRUMP. Tell ya again, kid: you need some POSITIVE, not more opinion / ad hom on Trump.

    It truly is insane how obsessed Trumpists are over Hillary's emails.

    State your evidence that shouldn't be. Those US Secretary of State emails containing official secrets were apparently intentionally on a server open to the world, YET US gov't still doesn't know the contents nor who got them.

    Your "writing" is dead easy since don't bother with facts. IF had to come up substantive proposals, you'd be stumped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:39am

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      It certainly seems so, for those who are deluded enough to worship Trump.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:47am

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      "Uh, what am I doing here?"

      I think a padded room would be more appropriate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:50am

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      Hmm... Speaking of Trump Derangement Syndrome, sir, you have a bad case of it.

      Those US Secretary of State emails containing official secrets were apparently intentionally on a server open to the world ...

      I would ask you to clarify what you mean, except this post isn't about Hillary's emails. You pick up a throwaway line and try to deflect with it. Sorry, not even going there. And that you picked up the line about the emails and ran with it simply shows that you are, in fact, obsessed with them.

      not more opinion / ad hom on Trump.

      Exactly the same thing: This post isn't about Trump. It's about Michael Pack.

      Your "writing" is dead easy since don't bother with facts.

      So is yours, since you don't actually engage with the post's topic, just your hobby horse.

      Now, sir. Do you have anything to say about Michael Peck, the USAGM, use of government funds, the substance of the Government Accountability Project's analysis, or the running of VoA? If not, then good day, sir!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:02pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      "Here you've successfully stolen the election"

      This is true to a degree, although people who understand that 81 million votes is higher than 73 million votes, without any actual evidence provided that any of the votes were not valid, would prefer the term "won" rather than "stolen". You're free to provide the missing evidence that Trump's lawyers failed to provide in many courtrooms any time you like.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:06pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      So why did "Lock her up!" fail so epically?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 6:43pm

        Re: Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

        Even Trump's handpicked judges wanted evidence, not speculation. Reals before feels.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:10pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      "Here you've successfully stolen the election"

      Trump proved he lost the election by losing all the court cases. That, in fact, shows Biden won. To have lost so many cases shows that there was nothing at all to the "Stop the Steal".

      If you are certain that is not the case, pick one case (Who vs Who) and lets look at the official court findings. Remember, many were Trump appointed judges.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 15 Mar 2021 @ 4:51pm

        Re: Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

        Trump proved he lost the election by losing all the court cases. That, in fact, shows Biden won. To have lost so many cases shows that there was nothing at all to the "Stop the Steal".

        If you are certain that is not the case, pick one case (Who vs Who) and lets look at the official court findings. Remember, many were Trump appointed judges.

        Trump Cult Member: ALL THE JUDGES WERE MEMBERS OF THE DEEP STATE!!! ALL THE CASES WERE DISMISSED WITHOUT LETTING POOR TRUMP PRESENT THE EVIDENCE!!! EVEN THE SUPREME COURT IS IN ON THE CONSPIRACY!!!

        Sadly, that's not sarcasm, that's what his brain damaged cult members actually think.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:23pm

      Ten years of taking the bait and this is still the best you can do?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 1:37pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      Those US Secretary of State emails containing official secrets were apparently intentionally on a server open to the world, YET US gov't still doesn't know the contents nor who got them.

      Since Trump's DOJ had 4 fucking years to investigate (or more to the point - lock her up), why don't you tell me why Trump sat on such a critical issue, doing absolutely nothing for so long?

      Protip: don't whine like a bitch when something didn't get done on your watch, with Trump as executive, a majority in both houses of Congress, and a DOJ that Trump appointed. Ask that lazy useless fuck why he didn't do anything...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 6:41pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      With all that money raised for "legal fees" (which he didn't pay) he could have hauled in Pinkerton and Chubb to investigate. Instead he kept it and left the RNC to pay. Don't blame others for your party's choices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 14 Mar 2021 @ 2:51pm

      Re: Trump Derangement Syndrome is PERMANENT.

      First, regarding the subject line, for the most part, the only Trump-related derangement I’ve seen is for Trumpists to ignore reality when it comes to Trump or Democrats. And it does, indeed, seem to be largely permanent, though I have seen some cases of former Trumpists in recovery, so there’s still some hope.

      Here you've successfully stolen the election, Congress and President […]

      Nope. There have been numerous court cases alleging such about the Presidential race, and none of them had any merit and were dismissed either for failing to state a claim, being wrong about the law, lacking sufficient reasonable evidence to support their claims, lacking standing (the least common reason), or some combination of the above, and they have all been ended. Numerous hand and machine recounts were done in the contested states, and none of them differed significantly from the original count. The only known instances of attempted or successful voter fraud or election fraud were by Republicans.

      And as for Congress, a lot of votes for Biden voted all Republican downticket, and the run-offs showed no evidence of voter or election fraud by Democrats either.

      Additionally, the various Republican election officials and Secretaries of State for each of the contested states have all said that there was no widespread voter or election fraud in their states during the 2020 election.

      As for the laws and election-policy-changes being complained about, all of them were also in place for states that went to Trump and to downballot Republicans in that same election, and with one possible exception, all of them were found to be lawful and constitutional, and many of them were in place well before the 2020 election.

      So, there is no credible evidence to support a claim of widespread voter and/or election fraud by Democrats that would be enough to have changed the results in any of the federal races in the 2020 election or the Georgia run-off for Senate. In fact, there’s a plethora of evidence to the contrary. As such, no US election was stolen here.

      and all that you can write of is TRUMP.

      First, they’ve written plenty of articles about the new Congress and administration as well as topics that have little to nothing to do with any Congress or administration, be it this one, the last one, and the one before. So no, this claim is false.

      Second, when Trump became President, Techdirt would still write some articles about the Obama administration, so this isn’t something they only do for Trump.

      Third, this has some information we didn’t previously know about, so Techdirt couldn’t have written about it before while Trump was still President, and it is still fairly relevant to today, in part because it’s also about what Biden is doing now:

      Tell ya again, kid: you need some POSITIVE, not more opinion / ad hom on Trump.

      Again, there have been some positive (or neutral) articles recently, and there were some throughout the Trump administration. So, you’re still working from a false premise. If you mean positive pieces about Trump, let me know what good Trump has done first, and then we’ll talk. That said, the only times most journalists may write positive pieces about the last president are when summarizing that President’s legacy right around when they leave office, when the current President does something that makes the last President look good, at least by comparison, or when the current President says something false about the last President. None of those are the case right now with Trump or Biden.

      Second, this is still largely an opinion blog, so of course they will write opinions about current and/or recent events as well as compare them to older events. They did the same thing for both Trump and Obama when they were President.

      Third, this isn’t an ad hominem argument, really. An ad hominem would be trying to refute what someone said because they are a bad or undesirable person or something. Criticizing someone’s actions and the motivations for those actions is not an ad hominem in itself. For example, saying that evolution is wrong or immoral because Charles Darwin was a racist would be an ad hominem. Saying that Michael Pack is corrupt and abused his power because he spent a lot of taxpayer money trying to weed out anti-Trump people in his cabinet and therefore should not keep or have ever had that position or been able to do those things is not an ad hominem. Not every insult is necessarily an ad hominem.

      Finally, technically, this article isn’t really about Trump. It’s about Michael Pack, the former Trump-appointed head of the US Agency for Global Media. You could argue that it is about Trump’s administration, but that’s not quite the same thing as being about Trump himself.

      “It truly is insane how obsessed Trumpists are over Hillary's emails.”

      State your evidence that [it] shouldn't be. Those US Secretary of State emails containing official secrets were apparently intentionally on a server open to the world, YET [the] US gov't still doesn't know the contents nor who got them.

      1. Actually, that server was no less secure than the one she was supposed to be using. It was not “open to the world”.

      2. Several Republican-led congressional investigations into it found no illegal activity.

      3. A Republican-led FBI investigated the issue and found no evidence of anything illegal.

      4. During the past four years, the Trump administration did nothing to indict or really even investigate Hillary Clinton at all over anything, let alone over those emails, despite saying that they would and having plenty of motive to do so and the power to do so if there was any wrongdoing on her part.

      5. Just about every previous Secretary of State who used email did essentially the same thing, including Colin Powell, and they received no repercussions whatsoever. Ivanka Trump also did something similar during the Trump presidency.

      6. It was not intentional. The investigations showed that essentially all of the allegedly classified emails were not properly marked to indicate that they were classified or what the classification was, all of them were sent there by others, not sent or solicited by Hillary, and many were improperly claimed to be classified despite not actually containing any classified material. Both the FBI and the congressional hearings on the matter said as much.

      7. As implied by point 6 and contrary to your assertions, the US government does (or at least did) know the contents of those emails. Yes, some emails were deleted, but supposedly they were purely personal emails and were not at all work-related. They were also deleted without knowledge of the investigation. Besides, they made up a minority of the emails on that server.

      8. The US government also knows (more or less) who got these emails. It doesn’t take forensic science to read the To, From, and Cc lines or to see who, if anyone, Hillary forwarded them to. The only things missing would be what recipients other than Hillary did with them or the Bcc recipients of the original email, and she had no control over those, nor was she responsible for that. And before you say, “But they were on an unsecured server and open to the world, so someone could’ve hacked in and seen them,” again, no they were not unsecured or open to the world (see point 1), but even if they were, the government also checked the private server and found no evidence of intrusion, infection, compromise, or anything else suspicious, so even if it was hypothetically plausible that a hacker obtained access they wouldn’t have had if the emails were on a government server (which it isn’t, really), it doesn’t appear that anyone actually did, so at least with regards to this specific claim, that point is moot.

      9. It has been more than five years since the topic of Hillary’s emails popped up, and by all credible accounts (and a number of less credible ones biased against Hillary), there doesn’t seem to have been any damage done to anyone or anything except possibly Hillary’s reputation. The secrets don’t appear to have anything that needed to be classified to protect national security or anything. No one who was not authorized to receive classified information actually accessed these emails. No one was hurt or killed. No money was lost (except in the investigations). Hillary also admitted that it was a mistake and that she learned her lesson, and she no longer holds any public office; she doesn’t even come into the public eye much any more. There has also been no new information or developments or other changes to the story since December 2016. Aside from Ivanka, who wasn’t punished or even investigated, there have been no new comparable situations that have come up to make it relevant to anything today. So, why keep bringing it up? What good does it do, especially now?

      Your "writing" is dead easy since don't bother with facts. IF had to come up substantive proposals, you'd be stumped.

      The only ones not bothering with facts here are you and Michael Pack. That said, this is meant to be an opinion piece, not just a blind recitation of the facts, so yeah, you’re going to get more than just facts here; you’ll also see opinions and maybe some speculation. Welcome to Techdirt. Clearly you’re new here.

      As for coming up with substantive proposals, Techdirt is not a lobbying body, a politician, a holder of any political office, involved in government contracts, a government agency/agent, a judge, or a clerk for any of the above. They don’t have any obligation to come up with substantive proposals because that’s not their job. Most journalists and writers of opinion pieces don’t come up with substantive proposals. Why would you expect Techdirt to be any different?

      That said, Techdirt has come up with substantive proposals for several things in the past, such as police accountability (especially qualified immunity), net neutrality, section 230 (and yes, “leave it alone” is a substantive proposal), copyright (especially the DMCA, which they recently sent several ideas about reforming to a representative), patents, and anti-SLAPP laws. So clearly, when it comes to coming up with substantive proposals, they clearly aren’t stumped as you claim.

      Finally, what “substantive proposals” would be made here on this issue? This is all about one guy’s attempt to make the USAGM and several things that come out of it like VoA into pro-Trump propaganda outlets, and that has been dealt with by Biden, who has removed the man responsible (among others) and is seeking replacements, including people who quit or were fired because of that guy. Maybe have some sort of oversight committee regarding how finances get used by that department? A bad actor would probably just gut the think to being useless.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Mar 2021 @ 11:36am

    I'm starting to get the whole PharmaBro vibe from all of this.

    These sorts of things happen all the time, but until some idiot draws attention to it & makes a huge spectacle they can't explain away suddenly its a problem.

    While this ass was blatant don't fall into the its a red/blue thing, the entire system is setup to be corrupt & allow the leaders of each little fiefdom their own power & bonuses to use as they see fit often lining their own pockets.

    People like to pretend that reform isn't needed, the institutions are sacred, blah blah blah... No the political backbone isn't there because so many of our elected officials enjoy their little perks, the revolving doors, the insider trading, the selling out of those they are supposed to represent to make sure they have enough money in the coffers to run better lies on TV than the other guy about how much they care about us.

    It was easy for them to change the rules about metal detectors & not bypassing them, because it mattered to them.
    Giving people aid in the middle of a pandemic made worse by their inability to grasp reality... still not there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:02pm

    Silencing dissenting opinions? That’s CANCEL CULTURE! The extreme left libtards who spend all of my taxpayer dollars won’t get away with....oh, wait....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2021 @ 12:14pm

    is the law firm being investigated?

    they had to know the contract was illegal

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Mar 2021 @ 1:19pm

    Ah good old conservative 'fiscal responsibility'

    Court: You're not allowed to just fire people because they have the audacity to not be as obsessed with worshiping The Dear Leader as you are, blatant abuses of power like that are kind of a no-no.

    Pack: Fine, I'll spend a bunch of taxpayer dollars looking for any possible scrap of 'evidence' I can use to justify firing them.

    Court: What did we just say?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 9 Mar 2021 @ 1:03am

    I present to you the bill.

    I know that in the DoD if you spend tax payer money without authorization you can be footed with the bill personally, even if spending the money was to benefit the government.

    I wonder if he can be billed personally for his "investigations"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    restless94110 (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 5:39am

    Staffing

    You mean that a Trump appointee wanted to turn the Voice of America from a left propaganda machine that everyone it broadcasts to laughs at because it is so obviously fake news, and make it into a once-again respectable and powerful force in the world, and was attempting to rid the organization of ideologues and their toxic wokeness--the ridicule of the world.

    It's so good you are pointing this out. Too bad you aren't celebrating his failed effort.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 6:40am

      Re: Staffing

      "the ridicule of the world"

      You have been the ridicule of the world recently, but for some reason you want to attach yourself to the focus of that ridicule (hint: it wasn't VoA).

      "Too bad you aren't celebrating his failed effort."

      Nah, I think people here prefer to celebrate people who achieve positive things, not two-time impeached, never won the popular vote, bankrupt con artists who kill 500K+ people through sheer incompetence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 9 Mar 2021 @ 11:06am

      Re: Staffing

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 14 Mar 2021 @ 3:07pm

      Re: Staffing

      There is absolutely no evidence that Voice of America is or ever has been a left propaganda machine or that it is or ever was laughed at by everyone who listens to it. Indeed, it has been seen as a positive force by non-totalitarians to counter totalitarian propaganda, and no conservative prior to Trump has ever leveled that accusation against it that I’m aware of.

      Also, the changes being made were actually making people around the world respect it less and were seen as attempting to make it a source of pro-Trump propaganda and fake news. More people found the VoA as Pack pushed it as far more laughable than the one that was already there.

      It’s also worth noting that the political opinions of the members of VoA were fairly diverse. Even the so-called anti-Trump people weren’t all leftist; many were right-wing or right-leaning, and some were centrist. Anti-Trump =/= anti-conservative or pro-liberal, which can be seen by the many ballots from 2020 where people voted essentially all Republican except for in the presidential race, and most of these particular ballots actually voted for Biden solely because they were anti-Trump. And the anti-Trump ones were not, by and large, ideologues or spreaders of “toxic wokeness”, whatever that is.

      I will concede that VoA may have been seen, at least by some, as a pro-America or pro-democracy propaganda machine, but not a leftist one.

      But please, do provide evidence that supports your claim.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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