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

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (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.

“Mr. (Michael) Pack has decided to defy the committee’s duly authorized subpoena,” Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, said.

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

Among other actions, Pack, a conservative filmmaker, has 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 has also replaced the bipartisan boards that govern and advise the services, mostly with political appointees from Trump’s administration.

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 Republican Representative Michael McCaul, the committee’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

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