The U.S. Agency for Global Media has removed a number of senior executives as the new CEO Michael Pack continues to dramatically reshape the government-run media group. Two of them say their ouster amounts to "retaliation" for standing up to Pack.
Among the changes on Wednesday, USAGM’s front office removed the agency’s chief financial officer and former interim CEO, Grant Turner, and its general counsel David Kligerman, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Prior to Kligerman’s removal, the front office was trying to go around his legal advice on mission critical agency issues, one of the people said. In a number of instances, staff for the general counsel were instructed to not share things with Kligerman.
Both men’s security clearances were suspended prior to an investigation on alleged agency security issues related to the hiring of foreign workers. They were also placed on administrative leave while the agency turns the wheels of actually firing both people.
Turner joined USAGM in February 2016 after a five-year stint as budget director of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. He also worked for six years at the Office of Management and Budget under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Turner also served as interim CEO of USAGM from October 2019 to June of this year, prior to Pack’s arrival.
The media agency is in turmoil over the recent arrival of Pack, a Steve Bannon ally who pushed out the heads of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets as he started as CEO.
In a statement, a USAGM spokesperson said: “We took action today to restore integrity to and respect for the rule of law in our work at USAGM. We will take additional steps to help return this agency to its glory days.”
Turner said in a statement to POLITICO: "The reasons for my removal are without merit and simply retaliation for calling the CEO and his team to account for gross mismanagement of the agency."
Kligerman also said in a statement to POLITICO: “There is no other conclusion to draw, except that it is in retaliation for attempting to do my job in an apolitical manner and to speak truth to power.”
He added: “I am a career civil servant who has faithfully supported the mission of the U.S. Agency for Global Media over these past seven years, supporting Republican and Democratic leadership through two presidential administrations. As general counsel and consistent with my oath of office, my job has been to interpret and advise on the regulations, laws and Constitution of the United States. I have done just that. My contributions have been repeatedly recognized and credited.”
John Lansing, who served as USAGM's CEO from 2015 to 2019, defended Turner and Kligerman, calling them "highly professional" and "people who have served their country at the highest level for a number of years."
"The hiring of foreign nationals was something that we took seriously and used a higher standard than what the Office of Personnel Management required because of national security," he said. "Michael Pack is using this as a smokescreen to cover up his efforts to deconstruct the legitimate and important journalism of Voice of America."
Other USAGM executives who were removed on Wednesday include chief strategy officer Shawn Powers, deputy director for operations Matt Walsh, executive director Oanh Tran and director of management services Marie Lennon. None could be reached immediately for comment.
In reaction to the personnel shakeup on Wednesday, Amanda Bennett, who was the head of Voice of America until she resigned shortly after Pack's arrival, said: "The American people are going to be very very sorry when they wake up one day and find that by these individual actions — one at a time that nobody stopped — they’ve lost the functioning government they once had.
"What is happening at USAGM is a microcosm of what’s happening all across the U.S. government — driving out honest, skilled, talented long serving professional public servants on trumped up charges and replacing them with people of no qualifications whose only attribute is loyalty. McCarthy couldn’t have done it better.”