Michael Pack, President Trump's pick to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media, is under investigation by the D.C. Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for possible self-dealing with his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, as Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee slam the nominee for refusing document requests.
Pack, if confirmed, would run the department in charge of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Office of Cuba Broadcasting, among other outlets, which provide U.S.-sponsored news programming globally.
"The OAG is investigating whether Mr. Pack’s use of his nonprofit’s funds was unlawful and whether he improperly used those funds to benefit himself," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Thursday. "The OAG is also requesting documents from the Committee in furtherance of its investigation. Following his confirmation hearing in September 2019, a Committee review of public records revealed that the Public Media Lab received several millions of dollars in grants and transferred those funds exclusively to Mr. Pack’s for-profit film production company.”
The White House said the president is standing behind Pack.
"Yet again, America is watching a qualified and capable nominee be the target of a desperate smear campaign designed to intimidate and tarnish the good reputation of an exceptional man by those in power for political purposes," White House spokesman Judd Deere told Fox News. "The president stands behind Michael Pack and is disappointed, but not surprised, that Do-Nothing-Democrats have once again decided to throw political mud on a public servant’s clean record."
The Washington Post reported that the probe of Pack and his nonprofit was started after Menendez sent a May 12 letter requesting an investigation.
A person familiar with the proceedings who supports Pack said that Democrats, in supporting the probe by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, are doing exactly what they accuse Republicans of with Bill Barr in the Michael Flynn case -- "weaponizing an attorney general" general for political purposes. The official said Pack is a “threat to the status quo” at Voice of America.
A source close to the nomination told Fox News that Pack "never once hesitated to respond honestly openly and thoroughly" to questions from the Senate committee and maintained that Pack's actions have been aboveboard.
"This is obviously politically motivated and it is unfortunate he is trying to undermine the process to get the necessary leadership over to this agency," the source said of Menendez.
Menendez on Thursday, however, said, "For nearly eight months, Mr. Pack has refused to provide the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with documents it requested that get to the heart of the matter that the OAG is now investigating, or to correct false statements he made to the IRS."
A spokesperson for the D.C. OAG confirmed the investigation to Fox News but declined to comment further.
The most recently available IRS 990 disclosure form for Public Media Lab indicates that Public Media Lab's only significant expenditure in 2018 was a $775,000 grant to Manifold Productions, a film and television production company owned by Pack. The nonprofit otherwise spent $1,728 on legal fees, $625 on accounting, $3 on office expenses and $15 on bank charges.
In 2017, the group gave Manifold Productions $300,000 and spent $1,300 on accounting expenses. It had no other expenditures for the year.
Public Media Lab does not appear to have a website or any social media presence.
The source close to the Pack nomination said that money went toward making a film about Clarence Thomas, consistent with Public Media Lab's goal "to support documentary filmmakers." The source also emphasized that there is a significant vetting process for any presidential nominee and that Pack had been previously confirmed in 2002 to the advisory board for the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.
"Any nominee, before they are even announced by the White House, must go through an excruciating vetting process. Michael Pack not only went through that process once in 2017, he went through it again in 2018, he went through it again in 2019, and we have a whole refresh in 2020," the source said.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment, but Trump was asked about the nomination during a public appearance Friday.
"Well, I don't know what happened. I know that Voice of America is run in a terrible manner," Trump said when asked if he is standing by Pack. "Terrible. And they're not the voice of America. The opposite of the voice of America. And we have a man who is very good. I don't know. He's in the nominating process. But I'll have to check that out."