June 04, 2020

**VIDEO** Menendez Delivers Remarks Ahead of Confirmation Vote for Michael Pack’s Nomination to USAGM

“If Mr. Pack is confirmed, the new bar for ‘advice and consent’ is now set below that of a nominee who is under an open investigation by law enforcement, and who blatantly provided Congress and the executive branch false information.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke on the Senate Floor in opposition to the nomination of Michael Pack to be CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Speaking ahead of the confirmation vote, Menendez laid out in detail his serious and outstanding concerns regarding inappropriate and potentially unlawful activity involving Mr. Pack’s business dealings, which the District of Columbia’s Attorney General is currently investigating.

“We live in an era where the extraordinary quickly becomes routine, but even by that metric Mr. Pack’s path to this floor has been a disgrace,” the Senator said.  “The objections that I have raised today and have been raising for months are not political or partisan in nature. They go to the most basic and critical questions: Is Michael Pack fit to serve? Should he be confirmed while he is under investigation and after having been dishonest with the Senate and the IRS? Given his alleged use of a small non-profit for self-enrichment, can we trust that he will not use the massive resources of the U.S. government to line his own pockets?  Colleagues, I implore you to consider these questions. Please put aside whatever pressure, whatever threats the President has made, and consider the dangerous precedent we are setting here today.”

Mr. Pack’s nomination was forced through by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch over the objection of Ranking Member Menendez and all other Democrats on the Committee, breaking decades of Committee bipartisan practice known as comity. Following a pressure campaign from President Trump and his allies, Chairman Risch also refused to allow an official Senate live-stream video of the approval proceedings, forcing Foreign Relations Minority staff to release cellphone footage of the proceedings.

Yes, the Chairman intentionally deprived the public of the opportunity to watch this unfortunate episode unfold as it did,” Menendez added. “We shutout the nation and the world — for the first time in my years of being on the committee.” 

A copy of the Senator Menendez’s full remarks may be found below.

“I rise to oppose the nomination of Michael Pack to be to be Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. But before I get into the specifics of the Pack nomination, I need to say a few words about the moment we are in and how we got here.

We are facing two devastating crises: Over 100,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19 in just a matter of months, and that number continues to grow. The scale and speed of the tragedy is almost impossible to comprehend. We certainly stand with all of our families who have lost loved ones, and we cherish their memories.

Unlike COVID-19, the second crisis is one of our own making, over centuries of injustice, where African Americans and other people of color have not been treated like human beings, have not been treated like every American deserves to be treated, like every person in the world has the right to be treated. 

No, Mr. President. All too often they have been treated like George Floyd, with a knee on their neck as they gasp and choke: “I can’t breathe.” 

As a result, our country has erupted with protest. In this moment, these grievances have been met with the petty antics and deplorable, violent tactics of notorious dictators around the world. I am shaken to have to say this, Mr. President. I am shaken to the core that President Trump, with the assistance of his Attorney General, used violence against peaceful protesters, people exercising their First Amendment rights, all for a photo-op with the bible. 

That is not right. That is not acceptable. That is not America. 

Mr. President, this body has to act. We have to act quickly and effectively to address these twin crises. This moment calls for leadership at every level. We all know this, but we are not doing it. Why not? 

The answer is because President Trump and the Republican Majority in this body are focused elsewhere. While our country is suffering — perhaps like never before — they are focused on domestic political errands. But while trivial, these errands are corrosive to this body, to our country, and to the Constitution.  

I need to say a few words about what is and what is not happening in the Committee on Foreign Relations because it bears directly on how and why Michael Pack is getting a vote on the Senate floor today. 

The Foreign Relations Committee has helped shape our collective response to some of this country’s greatest challenges – from Vietnam, to September 11th, to Afghanistan. We ought to be rising to the challenge of our times and shaping the international response to COVID-19. 

Yet tragically, we have not held one public hearing on COVID, and the Committee has not debated or voted on a single COVID-related bill or amendment despite being months into the crisis. This is something that I know that the democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came together on in a bill and offered it as an effort to be bipartisan to begin to address the crisis because we understand that viruses and diseases know no borders.

Mr. President, until the current Chairman, and for as long as anyone can remember, the Committee operated pursuant to what is known as comity. While that sounds like a fancy word, it simply means that we found a way to work together – to achieve a process that worked for all members, majority and minority alike, even if we did not always agree on substance. 

Had the Chairman engaged through our tradition of comity, we would have almost certainly had a business meeting that focused on COVID – the crisis at hand – and not Mr. Pack, a blatantly flawed nominee. 

Now I know that comity sounds awfully quaint in the polarized times we live in. But it worked. It worked for the members, for the Committee, and for the country. It was the force that bound us together — the force through which we found common ground to advance the national interest. 

I am sad to report that the Michael Pack nomination was the nail in the coffin for comity. The Chairman ignored the request of every member of the Committee’s Minority — a simple request — let’s not vote on Michael Pack until we have collectively worked through all of his serious background problems that exist. The letter that was sent to the Chairman did not even get responded to prior to ramming Pack through the Committee. His silence and his actions have changed the Committee and I believe the Senate for the worse. 

Now, Mr. President, I don’t have the time or the inclination to go through every violation of rules and norms that marred the Committee process on Michael Pack. But there is one violation that I have to speak to — one that is so serious and so corrosive that it needs to be documented and should never be repeated. 

I am speaking about the Chairman’s refusal to allow a video live-stream of the Committee’s debate and vote on Mr. Pack. Yes, Mr. President, the Chairman intentionally deprived the public of the opportunity to watch this unfortunate episode unfold as it did.   

This was shameful. It violated the rules. It sends the wrong message to every American and every person around the world. This committee is a beacon of light to the world for those who are oppressed, for transparency, for open government, for rule of law, for free press. We shut out the nation and the world — for the first time in my years of being on the committee. Since I got to the Senate, I’ve been on the committee. I’m the longest serving member of the committee on either side of the aisle. Never have we done that. That’s a message that we are weak, a message that we are ashamed, and a message that has no place in our democracy.  

Now, Mr. President, let’s turn to Michael Pack. 

If confirmed, Mr. Pack will oversee the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network. It is absolutely critical that any person in this position maintain a strong firewall between the work of its networks and grantees and political interference or influence from the White House or any others. 

People around the world have come to view the products from all of the networks and grantees as reliable and trustworthy news sources. As this pandemic has highlighted, people crave reliable, independent, and credible journalism. The networks of the USAGM are sometimes the only independent journalism a country can rely on, and bring free and open media to closed societies. The agency has, in the past, made some serious missteps, and the Board and the agency’s head have historically worked with Congress to help address them.

Sadly, Mr. President, the debate over Mr. Pack has not even ripened to a discussion of his substantive qualifications. No. We are stuck dealing with the nominee’s serious background problems despite multiple efforts to engage Chairman Risch, the White House and Mr. Pack himself on these matters.

The central issue with Mr. Pack is the way that he used — perhaps abused — his non-profit organization, Public Media Lab, and his refusal to come clean about it. 

As you can see from this chart, Mr. Pack is the President of both Public Media Lab and his for-profit company, Manifold Productions LLC, which he owns, and where his wife, Gina Pack, is the vice president and sole other employee. Sole other employee. Mr. Pack created and controls both organizations.

Since creating Public Media Lab in 2008, Mr. Pack has used it to raise more than four million dollars from private foundations. Some of those grants were earmarked to make specific films, while others, like a $250,000 grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, were simply for, quote “general operating support” for Public Media Lab. 

As you can see from this next chart, Mr. Pack transferred one hundred percent of the tax-exempts Public Media Lab received to his for-profit company, Manifold — no grants were ever given to any other organizations. The IRS would probably call that operating a non-profit for private benefit, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Some of that grant money was used to make films, but, based on Mr. Pack’s financial disclosures, it’s possible that up to 75 percent of it — millions of dollars — went straight to Mr. Pack and his wife, Gina. What you see on this chart, as was suggested in the debate the other day, this is not normal. This is not the standard. This is not “how it is done” in the industry. And that is why the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia — where Public Media Lab is incorporated — is now investigating Mr. Pack’s non-profit for possibly breaking the law. The question they are asking is whether Mr. Pack used donations to the non-profit for his own enrichment — to line his own pockets.

And from my understanding, this kind of behavior would normally raise some yellow flags at the IRS as well, and they would be curious as to why a non-profit seemed to be operating for the sole benefit of its creator. 

But the yellow flag never went up at the IRS, because, for many years after he created Public Media Lab, Mr. Pack never disclosed that it was doing business with his company — with himself. The IRS asks non-profits two key questions to determine whether a situation of private benefit might exist, and, for many, many years, Mr. Pack falsely told the IRS there was no relationship. 

When the IRS asked Mr. Pack—under penalty of perjury—whether Public Media lab provided grants to any entity controlled by an officer of the non-profit, he said “no” year after year after year. But the true answer was “yes.”

The IRS also asked Mr. Pack — again, under penalty of perjury — whether Public Media Lab conducted business with any entity that it shared officers or directors with. Again and again, year after year after year, Mr. Pack said “no.” But the true answer was “yes.” 

Had Mr. Pack told the IRS the truth, he would have had to make additional disclosures that may have raised that yellow flag — but the IRS was left in the dark by Mr. Pack’s false statements.

Now, when the Committee confronted Mr. Pack last year with these false statements, he claimed they were “oversights” and that he did not need to amend his filings because his false statements were “unintentional.” But then he turned around and made false statements to the Committee about his taxes. 

Mr. President, unfortunately, given the false statements to the IRS, year after year, and then to the Committee, we have to be concerned that Mr. Pack has a problem with the truth. 

Mr. Pack needs to come clean to the Senate, and he needs to come clean to the IRS. He needs to tell the IRS what’s on this chart — how much grant money he transferred from Public Media Lab to Manifold — and that he sent it from himself to himself. 

So let’s just review what we’ve learned from these charts. First, Mr. Pack may have conducted unlawful expenditures with his non-profit and operated it for private gain. Second, The IRS and the Senate don’t know the full truth, because Mr. Pack has made false statements and refused to provide documentation. And third, Mr. Pack’s non-profit is now under investigation by the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia for the very issues that I’ve been seeking answers from him for nine months.

As my friend Senator Merkley so eloquently noted yesterday, nominees need to tell the truth to Congress and the executive branch.  If there has been a mistake, the nominee needs to fix it. 

These are the most basic requirements for all nominees that come before the Senate —and the absolute minimum standard we used to ask them to meet. 

We live in an era where the extraordinary quickly becomes routine, but even by that metric Mr. Pack’s path to this floor has been a disgrace. If “advice and consent” means anything, at rock bottom, it means ensuring that the people we confirm are suitable for public service. And if they are not, we should not move forward.

I am aware of the pressure that some of my colleagues face as a result of this nomination. I know that the President has publicly trashed Voice of America, calling it “the voice of the Soviet Union,” which I hasten to say is dangerous nonsense. And I know that the President has spoken, both publicly and privately, of his intense desire to confirm Mr. Pack, come what may. 

But, Mr. President, the objections that I have raised today and have been raising for months are not political or partisan in nature. They go to the most basic and critical questions: Is Michael Pack fit to serve? Should he be confirmed while he is under investigation and after having been dishonest with the Senate and the IRS? Given his alleged use of a small non-profit for self-enrichment, can we trust that he will not use the massive resources of the U.S. government to line his own pockets? 

Colleagues, I implore you to consider these questions. Please put aside whatever pressure, whatever threats the President has made, and consider the dangerous precedent we are setting here today. If Mr. Pack is confirmed, the new bar for “advice and consent” is now set below that of a nominee who is under an open investigation by law enforcement, and who blatantly provided Congress and the executive branch false information.  

This institution has long been called “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” The history of this body guides us, and we make our decisions not just based on the immediate needs of the present, but on the example we will set for the future. I ask my colleagues who may be inclined to support Mr. Pack’s nomination today: Are you comfortable with this precedent?

The answer should be obvious, and I pray this body has the courage to get there. 

Let us turn away from Michael Pack and let us focus on healing the wounds of our nation and our democracy.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”

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