The past couple of weeks have seen unprecedented turmoil in the United States – from coronavirus spikes to massive protests and national conversations about race. This unrest has been mirrored by an uptick in resignations and firings from the top ranks of the Trump administration.
In the past 16 days alone, 12 officials have left the administration, some out of opposition to Trump’s policies and some falling victim to the President’s perceived “loyalty tests.”
US Agency for Global Media
USAGM is the media arm of the US government. It includes Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio y Televisión Martí, Radio Free Asia, and Alhurra.
Last Thursday, June 11, the Senate confirmed Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker and an ally of Steve Bannon, to run USAGM.
The vote, 53 to 38, came after Mr. Trump personally intervened to expedite Mr. Pack’s nomination, which had initially stalled amid concerns from senators in both parties and hit a snag more recently amid an investigation by the District of Columbia attorney general into whether he illegally funneled funds from his nonprofit group to his for-profit film company. NYT
On Monday, Director of VOA Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara resigned ahead of Pack’s start date. Trump previously criticized VOA for its story about the reopening of Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged. “Journalists should report the facts, but VOA has instead amplified Beijing’s propaganda,” the White House wrote on its website.
“If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. What – things they say are disgusting toward our country,” Trump said. “And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job.” video
Then on June 17, Pack fired three agency heads at USAGM in what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre”:
- Bay Fang, the head of Radio Free Asia
- Jamie Fly, the head of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe
- and Alberto Fernandez, the head of the Middle East Broadcasting Network
“They let go all of the heads of the networks. It’s unprecedented,” an agency source told CNN.
According to CNN, “a number of political appointees have been installed in management positions” and one of the incoming board members is an official from the conservative Christian organization Liberty Counsel.
Why does it matter?
VOA and US government-funded media has long been a target of conservatives who want more editorial control of its content, with the goal of crafting a more pro-U.S. narrative. Just a month after Trump’s election, Republicans in Congress changed the structure of VOA to dissolve the bipartisan executive board and replace it with a CEO appointed by the president.
“The priority is to make coverage fall in line with the president’s worldview,” said Brett Bruen, the director for global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, who had these US-funded media outlets in his portfolio.
Pack’s confirmation and subsequent purge of officials at USAGM moves the agency one step closer to being a propaganda arm of the U.S. government.
Noel Francisco, Solicitor General, resigned on Wednesday, effective July 3. His departure was expected. As Solicitor General, Francisco defended the Trump administration at the Supreme Court, making arguments in support of policies like the Muslim Ban.
Jody Hunt, head of DOJ’s Civil Division, resigned on Tuesday, effective July 3. No reason was given for his departure.
Brian Benczkowski, head of DOJ’s Criminal Division, resigned on June 10, effective July 3. His departure was planned. Benczkowski had previously worked for Russia’s Alfa Bank and refused to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.
Dana Boente, the FBI’s top lawyer, was forced out at the end of last month, asked to resign by those at “high levels of the Justice Department.” In the days leading up to his ouster, Fox News was airing critical coverage of Boente’s role in Michael Flynn’s prosecution.
Mary Elizabeth Taylor, a top State Dept. official (assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs), resigned on Thursday in protest of Trump’s response to racial tensions in the country. In her resignation letter, Taylor states: “The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions…I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign…”
Kathryn Wheelbarger, the top Pentagon official overseeing international security affairs, resigned on Thursday after the White House nixed her nomination due to “disloyalty” to Trump. In her resignation letter, Wheelbarger called for her colleagues “to be guided by the U.S. Constitution and the principles of our founding, which ensure both our security and our freedom.”
Elaine McCusker, acting-Under Secy of Defense, resigned on Tuesday, effective June 26. McCusker came to public attention last year when she warned the administration that Trump’s freeze on military aid to Ukraine was likely illegal. Following the impeachment trial, Trump pulled her nomination to hold her position permanently. Many saw this as retaliation for role in the Ukraine scandal.
James Miller, former under secretary of defense for policy, resigned from the Defense Science Board on June 2. He published his resignation letter criticizing what he was as Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s support for the tear-gassing of protestors in Lafayette Square. “You may not have been able to stop President Trump from directing this appalling use of force, but you could have chosen to oppose it. Instead, you visibly supported it,” Miller wrote.