War on Trump USAGM Pick Michael Pack Undermines U.S. Battle With China | Opinion

Nearly a full term into the Donald Trump presidency, the administration was finally able to fill a little-known but pivotal seat with someone of the president's choosing. The political establishment had worked tirelessly to block the appointment. Its obstruction would continue post-confirmation. The appointee was subjected to an onslaught from Congress, in the courts and in the press. The apparent aim was to undermine him as part of a broader effort to undermine the president's policies.

The continued fight against Michael Pack, the new CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), is a microcosm of the fight of this presidency: to overcome a political establishment unwilling to afford the president the same privileges as his predecessors—including to staff the executive branch with supporters. That is, to overcome a Washington, D.C. hellbent on preventing the peaceful transfer of power.

In so doing, it is the Resistance that has eviscerated our norms, values and institutions. In its jihad against Mr. Pack, it has done so to the detriment of our national security interests.

USAGM is an essential part of America's arsenal in the War of Ideas. The independent federal agency oversees the Voice of America (VOA), Office of Cuba Broadcasting and USAGM-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) and Open Technology Fund. We, the American taxpayer, contribute $800 million annually to USAGM to "inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy." Its outlets faithfully fulfilled this mission during the Cold War. To triumph over today's Communist menace, China, it must do so again.

Enter Michael Pack. Mr. Pack is indisputably qualified to head USAGM. During his more than 40 year career, he has produced more than a dozen celebrated documentaries appearing on the Public Broadcasting Service on American politics, culture and history, and served in a number of management and editorial capacities in U.S. international broadcasting entities under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Yet these credentials did not satisfy Senate Democrats, the sole opponents of his confirmation, because of Pack's original sin: He is a patriotic, conservative American who threatens to abide by the governing Standards & Principles to which USAGM must adhere by law.

The first such standard is that broadcasts be "consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States." President Trump is primarily responsible for setting these objectives, and CEO Pack correspondingly must advance them.

This is intolerable for the likes of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was chiefly responsible for slow-walking Pack's confirmation.

Sen. Menendez engaged in a two-fold line of attack: First try to make Pack radioactive by highlighting his past brief working relationship with fellow China critic (and Pack supporter) Steve Bannon, and then paint Pack as corrupt.

The purpose of the former was to create a narrative, which the press dutifully pushed, that Pack would be a Trump true-believer—horror of horrors—turning USAGM into "authoritarian" state media. This narrative persists, with publications slandering Pack, who is Jewish, with headlines like: "Is Trump putting fascists in charge of the Voice of America?" Such attacks are analogous to those on President Trump's other most-inspired picks, such as Amb. Richard Grenell and Attorney General William Barr, who were savaged as toadies who would damage the institutions they led. What President Trump's opponents truly loathe are like-minded, competent conservatives serving in his administration.

The latter line of attack was similarly specious, but also hypocritical and potentially corrupt. Recall that Sen. Menendez was the subject of a 22-count indictment by the Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning an alleged bribery scheme. He purportedly enjoyed lavish vacations on Dr. Salomon Melgen's dime, gifts never cleared nor disclosed, while advocating on Dr. Melgen's behalf with government officials in connection with his over-billing of Medicare payments, businesses interests and desired visas for his mistresses. After the jury in Sen. Menendez's case proved deadlocked, it was declared a mistrial and the DOJ dropped the case. But Sen. Menendez's colleagues on the Senate Ethics Committee deemed the allegations true, admonishing him for violating "Senate rules, federal law and applicable standards of conduct." Dr. Melgen would be sentenced to 17 years in prison for Medicare fraud.

Consider this background, given the seemingly frivolous charges Sen. Menendez leveled at Pack. Two days before Pack was to receive a vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Menendez called for an investigation into Pack's business dealings. The night before the vote, The Washington Post revealed that the District of Columbia's attorney general subpoenaed him. The vote was temporarily scuttled. The probe concerned donations to Pack's nonprofit entity that were then paid to his production company in connection with his documentary work—a common structure, according to a RealClearPolitics report. Sen. Menendez's colleagues were ultimately unconvinced, Pack's nomination proceeded and he prevailed.

Meanwhile, RealClearPolitics' Susan Crabtree unearthed that a member of USAGM's board of governors—a New Jersey-based major Democratic donor—had gifted $40,000 to Sen. Menendez's legal defense fund. That board was disbanded by Pack after he was seated. Was it a coincidence, then, that Sen. Menendez tried to kneecap Pack? Will the suddenly-ethical Sen. Menendez and his colleagues seemingly orchestrate such investigatory trickery to sideline future nominees?

On top of disbanding the board, Pack fired the heads of each of the USAGM-funded outlets. This caused a bipartisan backlash. Sen. Menendez called for an inspector general investigation.

Sensationalist headlines blaring "Wednesday Night Massacre" reflected the typical anti-Trump media hysteria that no Democratic president would face. Only under President Trump is it verboten for an administrator to administrate.

In interviews, Pack claimed he was proceeding as he would have had he assumed his position on schedule, including releasing both Democrats and Republicans in order to avoid any appearance of partisanship.

Voice of America headquarters
Voice of America headquarters in Washington, D.C. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed he was within his rights to do so.

More importantly, notwithstanding the merits of some of the figures Pack released, such as former MBN head Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, Pack was more than justified to start anew at USAGM, given the problems ailing it under his President Obama-appointed predecessor.

Setting aside the organization's persistently poor morale and alleged corruption, its greatest issue has arguably been its editorial bias to the detriment of U.S. foreign policy—particularly with respect to America's greatest adversary, China.

As the White House pointed out in April 2020, VOA parroted Beijing's propaganda regarding the coronavirus pandemic for which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is most culpable.

In May 2019, following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's landmark foreign policy speech at the Claremont Institute's 40th Anniversary Gala, VOA appeared to blatantly flout its mission by limiting its coverage of the speech to its Chinese Service, which omitted Sec. Pompeo's most critical remarks about the CCP.

This came on the heels of the VOA's censoring of an April 2017 interview with CCP dissident-in-exile Guo Wengui. The interviewer, Mandarin Service Chief Sasha Gong, as well as four colleagues, were suspended without pay. Gong and two others were ultimately fired.

This is to say nothing of the VOA's alleged running of pro-Iranian propaganda.

The White House was right to assert that the "VOA too often speaks for America's adversaries—not its citizens."

Pack is changing that. He observes:

"China is stepping up its propaganda campaigns. ...And I don't think we're doing as well as we should in the war of ideas, putting our values and our ideas out there—and that is the principal mission of these agencies.

"It's a legal obligation. ...My plan is to bring this agency back to what it was legally required to do."

In a separate interview, he adds:

"We need to get our values out...values and principles...as enshrined in the Declaration and Constitution...that we as a country are dedicated to that are very different from the principles of communist China."

Though undeterred, Pack has come under attack for this position from The New York Times and Axios by daring to consider options for breaking through China's "Great Firewall" from sources affiliated with the Falun Gong, victims of brutal CCP persecution. According to a Times headline, such a pursuit could "put global internet freedom at risk." Axios concluded, "A far-right take-over of an independent U.S. government agency may allow once-fringe ideas promulgated by a controversial religious group to become official policy."

The CCP could not ask for more.

I spent several days with Pack in 2015 while obtaining a Publius Fellowship at the aforementioned Claremont Institute, where he formerly served as president. Consistent with his remarks, Pack demonstrated an ardent belief in America's founding principles—and the imperative to instill them through media.

These sentiments may qualify as subversive in this time of statue-toppling, but they are needed at USAGM.

That presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he would fire Pack is not only an endorsement of Pack, but an inadvertent admission of his importance to countering China.

President Trump should be cheered for pushing an intransigent establishment to seat Pack. The benefits will redound to all Americans.

Ben Weingarten is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020). Ben is the founder and CEO of ChangeUp Media LLC, a media consulting and production company. Subscribe to his newsletter at bit.ly/bhwnews, and follow him on Twitter @bhweingarten.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.