U.S. broadcasting chief defies congressional subpoena, skips hearing

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol dome is seen in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's appointee as head of U.S. government broadcasting operations failed to appear at a House of Representatives hearing on Thursday, defying a committee subpoena amid concern over editorial independence at the agency.

A series of firings shortly after Michael Pack took over as head of the agency overseeing Voice of America and other state-run media around the world raised concern from both Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans about traditionally independent U.S. outlets.

Among other actions, Pack, a conservative filmmaker, removed the heads of four organizations under the Agency for Global Media (AGM) umbrella: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Network and the Open Technology Fund. He also replaced the services' bipartisan boards, mostly with political appointees.

Lawmakers from both parties criticized Pack's decisions at a hearing where former AGM officials described "dire events" at the agency. "I'm worried about the credibility and the goodwill of our networks being destroyed," said Grant Turner, former AGM chief financial officer, who has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said Pack's office made a commitment on Aug. 3 that he would appear at the hearing before saying he would not attend, prompting the subpoena.

"Mr Pack ... is making a mockery of a U.S. agency that has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support and he has shown tremendous disrespect for the committee, our committee, and its role overseeing USAGM," Engel said.

"We are a separate and equal branch of government and ... this committee deserves the respect of a response," said Representative Michael McCaul, the panel's ranking Republican.

AGM did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. It said in a statement after the committee announced its subpoena that Pack had had a conflict and was eager to testify.

"USAGM CEO Michael Pack is disappointed that the committee has decided to escalate the situation," the statement said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)