Suspended officials sue agency that runs Voice of America

FILE - This June 15, 2020, file photo shows the Voice of America building in Washington. More than a dozen journalists with the U.S. government's premier international broadcaster, Voice of America, may soon have to leave the United States as their visas expire with no action from the agency's new leadership. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) (Andrew Harnik, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Suspended officials at the agency that runs the Voice of America news outlet filed suit against it Thursday, accusing its CEO and his top aides of trying to turn it into a vehicle to promote President Donald Trump's agenda.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the actions of U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack and his senior advisers violate the “statutory firewall” intended to protect VOA from political interference.

National Public Radio, which first reported the lawsuit, said the five plaintiffs have all been suspended by Pack and are seeking reinstatement.

Lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. told NPR, “The lawsuit we filed today seeks to vindicate core First Amendment principles that protect the independence and credibility of this country’s publicly funded media organizations, like Voice of America, which are under siege by the current administration.”

Pack, a conservative filmmaker, Trump ally and one-time associate of former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, took the helm of USAGM in June and has made no secret of his intent to shake the agency up. His moves, however, have been criticized by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who control the agency’s budget.

Democrats in particular have expressed alarm about Pack’s actions, which they fear are aimed at turning VOA and other U.S.-funded broadcasters like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti into Trump propaganda outlets.

VOA was founded during World War II and its congressional charter requires it to present independent news and information to international audiences.