On June 16, the top two officials at the Voice of America resigned with the arrival of new Trump appointee Michael Pack as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (see Top VOA Officials Resign as Michael Pack Assumes Charge as CEO of @USAGMgov).
On Wednesday evening, the news media reports the dismissal of the remaining heads of the four organizations under USAGM. OCB already has an interim director since 2018, and VOA was just vacated. For those unfamiliar with the agency, this used to be BBG prior to its “larger modernization effort” in August 2018.
The heads of four organizations overseen by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) were all dismissed Wednesday night — a move likely to heighten concerns that new Trump-appointed CEO Michael Pack means to turn the agency into a political arm of the administration.
In what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre,” the heads of Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund were all ousted, multiple sources told CNN.
“They let go all of the heads of the networks. It’s unprecedented,” an agency source told CNN.
A source familiar with the situation said at least two of the removals — that of RFE/RL’s Jamie Fly and MBN’s Alberto Fernandez — were unexpected. The head of the Open Technology Fund, Libby Liu, had resigned effective July, but was still fired Wednesday evening, one of the sources said.
In addition, Jeffrey Shapiro, an ally the ultra-conservative former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, is expected to be named to lead the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
BREAKING: The heads of four organizations overseen by the US Agency for Global Media were dismissed tonight. A former official called it a "Wednesday night massacre." Full story by @jmhansler and 🙋♂️ https://t.co/9KaMimlLM3
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 18, 2020
SCOOP: Federal media chief Michael Pack has installed key Trump loyalists to leadership posts at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a memo reviewed by CNBC says. He's also eliminated various board members who have been part of USAGM for years. https://t.co/lcx9qyqZgz
— Brian Schwartz (@schwartzbCNBC) June 17, 2020
Michael Pack, the new head of the US Agency for Global Media, sent an introductory email to his staff today, amid rumors he’ll be firing a bunch of career staffers. I obtained the text: https://t.co/VZsG7v05Qx
— Nahal Toosi (@nahaltoosi) June 17, 2020
Proud of what we accomplished over the past three years at MBN, including at @alhurranews, humbled and honored to have worked with some great people, very talented journalists and writers in Springfield, Dubai, Beirut and throughout the region. 1/3
— Alberto Miguel Fernandez (@AlbertoMiguelF5) June 18, 2020
Chair of House Foreign Affairs Cttee, @RepEliotEngel has raised alarm over impending purge of career officials at US Agency for Global Media by its new Trump-appointed head, Michael Pack.
"Mr Pack needs to understand that USAGM is not the Ministry of Information." pic.twitter.com/PPkiaapgl5
— Julian Borger (@julianborger) June 17, 2020
The newly confirm CEO Michael Pack “oversees all aspects of U.S. international media.” He reportedly also “provides day-to-day management of USAGM’s operations, including oversight of the technical, professional, and administrative support as well as strategic guidance and management of other programs. USAGM’s management team is listed here.
"Voice of America director, deputy resign amid Trump clash"https://t.co/MQ8guN9QcC
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) June 15, 2020
“A well-placed VOA employee said there are internal discussions about a sizable shakeup coming to the agency that may include former White House official and conservative radio host Sebastian Gorka taking on a leadership position.” https://t.co/K6W4CEe3dn
— Blake News (@blakehounshell) June 15, 2020
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) June 15, 2020
Admin says it doesn’t like “Chinese propaganda” (which Trump tweeted on his own) as the admin undermines VOA when at the same time Trump pushes Russian propaganda and doesn’t restrict RT, Sputnik, or OAN. Let’s see the tone change when Xi dangles another (faux) trade deal. https://t.co/eASDZWVVQi
— Matt Armstrong (@mountainrunner) June 15, 2020
FOIA'd communications reveal that the CDC press office has officially blacklisted Voice of America, citing White House displeasure with its coverage https://t.co/naY0OwMuFt
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) June 15, 2020
Congratulations to Michael Pack on his confirmation as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. @USAGMgov has the important mission of providing accurate and reliable information to the most challenging media environments. I look forward to working with Michael in his new role.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 6, 2020
Public Media Lab, a nonprofit run by Trump nominee Michael Pack, is under investigation by the D.C. attorney general. This comes after @CNBC's reporting on the group and how they funneled donor money into Pack's production company, Manifold Productions. https://t.co/jr5Z5u5Oxp
— Brian Schwartz (@schwartzbCNBC) May 14, 2020
SCOOP: A nonprofit run by Michael Pack, Trump's pick to lead the agency that oversees Voice of America and other outlets, is now under investigation by the DC attorney general's office https://t.co/p9L81EaDr7
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) May 14, 2020
New- @SenatorMenendez says DC Attorney General’s office is investigating Michael Pack—conservative filmmaker tied to Steve Bannon and Trump’s nominee to lead @USAGMgov, which oversees @VOANews—for self-dealing. His nom was scheduled to get SFRC vote Wed, amid Trump attacks on VOA pic.twitter.com/XcFXNjgi0X
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) May 14, 2020
New – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is delaying a vote for Michael Pack, a Bannon ally and conservative filmmaker, to lead the US Agency for Global Media (includes Voice of America’s). Vote was supposed to be tomorrow. Via committee spox pic.twitter.com/RtPoG1ppD5
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) May 14, 2020
"Trump’s surprising target in war on media: Voice of America"https://t.co/uOfUimTg0u
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) May 13, 2020
NEW: Trump pushes GOP senators to confirm Michael Pack, a Steve Bannon ally, as head of US global media agency. Dems question his financial transactions. Employees at @VOANews & other outlets fear loss of journalistic independence. w/ @CatieEdmondson. https://t.co/DumdGo16de
— Edward Wong (@ewong) May 8, 2020
Trump White House launches extraordinary attack on @VOANews w/ false claims that it amplifies China’s propaganda. In fact, China has criticized VOA & its independent reporting. White House absurdly says “much of the U.S. media takes its lead from China.” https://t.co/sZsySq64Yw
— Edward Wong (@ewong) April 11, 2020
NEW: Trump’s nominee to lead a federal media agency, Michael Pack, funded his private company with donations from his nonprofit. The group has funneled at least $1.6 million in grant money into Manifold Productions. https://t.co/LBPzSiylU7
— Brian Schwartz (@schwartzbCNBC) September 20, 2019
The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM, @USAGMgov) will soon be without a chief executive officer. USAGM released a statement on the departure of its CEO John Lansing. He joined USAGM (then known as BBG) as CEO and Director in September 2015. Excerpt below:
After four years serving as the first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), John F. Lansing will be leaving USAGM—an independent federal agency providing accurate, objective, and professional news and information worldwide—at the end of this month to start the next chapter of his career as the President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR).
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs also released a statement. Excerpt below:
“It’s important that when John steps down, there is continuity of leadership at USAGM. Changes in the law adopted in 2016 provided for a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed CEO to lead the agency. But the Senate has not confirmed such a nominee and until it does so, the existing Board of Governors retains the power to name a replacement. I urge the Board to do so immediately, as we can’t predict when the Senate may act on the President’s nominee. This is too important a job to be left vacant for even a day.”
NEW: NPR has a new CEO.
John Lansing, a veteran government broadcast and cable TV exec, has been selected by NPR's corporate board to succeed its current chief, Jarl Mohn.https://t.co/nKp6FvYLPj
— NPR (@NPR) September 5, 2019
Breaking: @NPR names veteran media exec John Lansing as new CEO. He is currently CEO of US Agcy for Glibal Media, the federal agency that oversees @VOANews. Part of news release from NPR: pic.twitter.com/p4rzp6GvBG
— Paul Farhi (@farhip) September 5, 2019
— House Foreign Affairs Committee (@HouseForeign) September 5, 2019
We’re late on this, but on June 27, 2019, USDOJ announced that Haroon K. Ullah, a former senior official of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the agency formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) entered a plea of guilty for stealing over $40,000 in government money in 2018.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Alexandria man pleaded guilty today to stealing over $40,000 in government money during 2018, while he was employed as a senior government official at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in Washington, D.C.
According to court documents, Haroon K. Ullah, 41, admitted that he fraudulently obtained thousands of dollars in government funds by submitting falsified hotel invoices, falsified and inflated taxi and Uber receipts, and by billing the government for personal travel and for travel that had already been paid by third parties.
Additionally, Ullah admitted that he created a falsified letter from a real medical doctor purportedly claiming that Ullah needed to fly in business class at government expense because of a sore knee. By submitting the forged letter from the doctor, Ullah fraudulently obtained costly business class upgrades at government expense, including on lengthy international flights. Ullah admitted to creating many of the false documents on his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea, Ullah also admitted that he submitted falsified invoices and repair estimates to an insurance company regarding a claim for repairs to his home in Alexandria.
A former employee of the U.S. Department of State, Ullah became a member of the Senior Executive Service when he joined USAGM as its Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO. Ullah is no longer employed with USAGM.
Ullah pleaded guilty to theft of government money and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on October 11. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III, accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg is prosecuting the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-183.
Mr. Ullah’s website still says that he “serves as Chief Strategy Officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an $800 million global media agency. He is a scholar, diplomat and policy practioner with a special focus on digital strategy, countering violent extremism and transmedia engagement.”
USAGM’s website has removed Mr. Ullah’s bio from its website and info related to him appears not to display prominently on its website; a search still returns events where he was featured as the agency’s CSO, and the Wayback Machine has archived this CSO for eternity.
A Statement of Facts submitted with Mr. Ullah’s Plea Agreement notes that before joining USAGM, he had been employed with the U.S. Department of State since 2010. It also notes the following:
5. During the approximate ninth—month period of February 2018-October 2018, ULLAH submitted for reimbursement multiple falsiﬁed hotel invoices; falsiﬁed taxi receipts; double-billed third party sponsors and USAGM for the same trips; and billed USAGM for personal
trips, either to promote his book, or for week-end trips during which little to no USAGM business was conducted. ULLAH used his government computer, a Microsoft Surface Pro, to create the false documents. He would obtain logos and other graphics on-line and use either an invoice generator or Microsoﬁ Excel in order to create fraudulent hotel invoices. Sometimes ULLAH had stayed with a family member or friend or at a budget hotel, but he created the false invoice for the purpose of ﬁnancial gain in order to maximize his reimbursement from USAGM. With other hotel invoices, ULLAH took a legitimate hotel invoice and changed his address or other data in order to conceal that the hotel room had been paid by a third party, which fact ULLAH intentionally failed to disclose to E2 and USAGM.
8. As part of a scheme to obtain business class travel to which he was not entitled, ULLAH also submitted to USAGM a falsiﬁed and forged letter from a real medical doctor, identiﬁed here by the initials N.A., claiming that ULLAH required an upgrade to business class because of a medical condition that required him to “lie ﬂat” on long ﬂights. The doctor conﬁrmed to law enforcement that the letter was a forgery; that he did not authorize ULLAH to use his identity or to sign his name for him; and that a business class upgrade for ULLAH’s sore knee
was not medically necessary.
Part of the Plea Agreement says:
Further, in accordance with Rule 11(c)(l)(B) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the United States and the defendant will recommend to the Court that the following provisions of the Sentencing Guidelines apply: Under Section 2B1 .1(b), the intended loss is greater than $40,000 but less than $95,000, thus six levels are added to the base offense level. Under Section 3Bl.2, the United States and the defendant agree to a two level enhancement for abuse of a position of public trust as an employee of the United States.
The Plea also notes:
“The United States will not further criminally prosecute the defendant in the Eastern District of Virginia for the speciﬁc conduct descﬁbed in the information or statement of facts. This plea agreement and statement of facts does not confer on the defendant any immunity from prosecution by any state government in the United States.”