Employees at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the U.S. government-backed international media agency, are raising concerns about the possibility of a pro-Trump “coup.”
BBG provides independent news coverage around the world, running Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and whistleblowers say they’re concerned top staffers are plotting to undermine that independent reporting.
According to the employees who spoke to Foreign Policy and a letter to the BBG from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) released Wednesday, there is a plot to remove BBG’s CEO. Longtime BBG official André Mendes has allegedly teamed up with Jeffrey Shapiro, a former Breitbart contributor who now works as a senior adviser to the BBG, in an effort to oust current leadership and replace them with members who are aligned with President Donald Trump.
“They’re planning a blatant power grab,” one BBG official told Foreign Policy.
Ultimately, BBG employees told the magazine, Mendes and Shapiro want to dissolve the board and expect that Trump would then nominate Mendes as CEO. Mendes denied the allegations in an interview with the magazine, and the White House said it would not comment on personnel decisions.
Engel, in his letter Wednesday, said he found the employees’ claims credible, writing, “This action would violate current law and represent what these whistleblowers have described as ‘a coup at the BBG,’ presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG’s journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of the Trump Administration.”
“This scenario as outrageous and unacceptable,” Engel added.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has also voiced concern, saying Tuesday, “We are just starting to learn about disturbing efforts to purge the Broadcasting Board of Governors and impose a partisan editorial voice on U.S. international media.”
Sources told CNN last fall that Shapiro represented himself at the BBG as an ally and close associate of former White House chief strategist and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon. As Media Matters noted Wednesday, Shapiro recently criticized the “tarring” of Bannon as an anti-Semite, and while at Breitbart, Shapiro wrote that former President Obama’s birth certificate showed that Americans are “powerless.”
During the 2016 campaign and into the Trump administration, Breitbart, with Bannon at the helm and in the White House, was quick to run interference for Trump and has essentially functioned as a pro-Trump propaganda arm. If the alleged coup succeeds, it could turn the independent, evidence-based BBG into the same type of propaganda machine.