“The permanent bureaucracy felt they knew better”

Michael Pack:

After all, they were experts, while the president, in their estimation, was an ignoramus, or worse, unfit for office. For example, during Trump’s first impeachment, a parade of senior officials, many serving on the White House’s National Security Council or in the State Department, testified against their boss, making clear that their understanding of Ukraine was superior to his, liberating them to undermine his policies.

But I witnessed the death of democracy up close and personal. President Trump selected me to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which is responsible for all government international broadcasting. At a budget of about $850 million a year, USAGM is made up of five broadcasters: Voice of America, Cuba Broadcasting, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Together, they reach over 350 million people a week in over 70 languages.

I’ve been told that the day after Trump was elected, the senior leadership of USAGM held a meeting to decide how best to block Trump from assuming authority over the agency, as they deemed Trump dangerous and unqualified. The White House selected me in March 2017, two months after President Trump was sworn in. Agency leadership, along with others in the federal bureaucracy and eventually Democrats in the Senate, blocked my confirmation for three years and three months. I finally walked through the door of USAGM in June 2020 for the final eight months of the Trump presidency.

My goal, my only goal, was to return the news services to their legally mandated mission: to report news that is “accurate, objective, and comprehensive” (in the words of the VOA charter, which is U.S. law), and to promote American ideals like democracy and human rights around the world. In this modest, nonpartisan goal, I was doomed from the start. The USAGM permanent bureaucracy was ready to undermine every move of my administration, with the help of their allies in the media, Congress, and the courts, as well as pro bono lawyers. After all, they had been preparing for years while my nomination languished. 

To give a few highlights. On my first day, I removed or caused to resign the heads of the five networks, as was my explicit right under law, and as is a common practice among incoming CEOs in the private and public sector. This move was clearly nonpartisan, as I had removed Republicans as well as Democrats, and they were essentially political appointees. The purpose was a clean start. The media portrayed this as “the Wednesday night massacre,” though only five out of 4000 employees left. They repeated their claims that I intended to turn USAGM into “Trump TV,” which they had manufactured the day after the White House selected me in March 2017.

Every subsequent act of my administration was not only blocked, but lied about and used to discredit me personally and the Trump administration generally. My efforts were treated as an attack that merited the strongest counterattack from my purported employees. Out of innumerable examples, let me offer only one.

Related: “They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!