The U.S. Agency for Global Media has hired Frank Wuco, a controversial former talk radio host who once called President Barack Obama “a Kenyan” and said Nancy Pelosi was a Botox-using Nazi, according to three USAGM officials.
Wuco recently started as an adviser in the front office of USAGM, which is headed by Michael Pack, who is dramatically reshaping the agency that oversees taxpayer-funded media properties. Pack’s early moves have led to blowback on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and some Republicans furious over what they see as a effort to turn independent news outlets meant to spread American values into vessels for pro-Trump propaganda.
One of Wuco’s responsibilities so far has been to audit USAGM’s office of policy and research, according to one of the officials. A former senior adviser at the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, he also earlier worked as senior White House adviser at the Department of Homeland Security and is a former naval intelligence officer.
But it’s Wuco’s time hosting “The Frank Wuco Show” from 2011 to 2013 that has gotten most of the attention. His hiring has raised eyebrows among USAGM employees, who are surprised that an agency devoted to promoting fact-based news to audiences around the world would hire someone who has spread conspiracy theories with no basis in reality.
In 2017, CNN reported: “Among the conspiracy theories Wuco pushed were claims that former President Barack Obama’s memoir was ghost written by former anti-Vietnam War radical Bill Ayers, claims that former CIA director John Brennan converted to Islam and claims Attorney General Eric Holder had been a member of the Black Panthers.”
On one show in 2011, he called then-House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi “Nancy Nazi Pelosi” and mocked her appearance.
“Seeing her last night, it made me think -- I’ll have to ask my brother-in-law who’s a plastic surgeon if this is true,” he said, in comments first unearthed by CNN’s KFile. “But I’m telling you that Botox has got to have an expiration date on it. No, I’m not talking about Botox in the bottle. I am talking about Botox in your face. And apparently from what I saw last night, it's not a gradual expiration.”
In 2013, during a speech criticizing Obama, Wuco told a crowd of Tea Partiers: “I thought he was a Kenyan!” in reaction to a crowd member telling him that Obama was a plagiarist.
Earlier in his career, Wuco also worked as an adviser to parts of the military about how Islamic terrorists thought. As part of that, he created a jihadist alter-ego named “Fuad Wasul,” an identity he used to dress up in Islamic garb. He also had a radio segment called “Ask the Jihadist.”
“I’m sure that will go over well with our Middle East Broadcasting Networks audience,” quipped one USAGM official.
Asked for comment on the new hires, a USAGM spokesperson said: “CEO Pack has chosen an elite leadership team comprised of subject-matter experts as well as former members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are committed to fulfilling USAGM’s mission, protecting U.S. national security, and serving the American people.”
USAGM’s front office also has hired Toni DeLancey, who was previously the chief operating officer of social conservative group Concerned Women of America, as a senior adviser. This is Delancey’s second stint in the Trump administration. From September 2017 to April 2019, she was deputy director of congressional and public affairs at the Farm Credit Administration. Earlier in her career, she worked for the U.S. Postal Service for seven years, Fox News for a year, and is a graduate of West Point. Delancey didn’t respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, Pack removed seven top long-serving officials from the agency for alleged security violations related to the proper vetting of foreign nationals who were hired to be journalists for USAGM’s broadcast networks and the vetting of the agency’s American employees.
Among the people removed was general counsel David Kligerman. In mid-June, USAGM’s front office, at the direction of chief of staff Emily Newman, asked a new senior political appointee to compile negative information about Kligerman to justify his removal. The request came only a few days after Kligerman had raised concerns about the lawfulness of Pack’s mass terminations and reassignments on Pack’s first day. The appointee felt uncomfortable with the instruction and soon left for another part of the Trump administration, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The front office then installed former State Department official Mora Namdar as acting vice president for legal affairs, risk and compliance. According to two of the people, she fulfilled the original request to compile material against Kligerman and worked in tandem with Newman to undermine and sideline him. Newman and Namdar didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, a USAGM spokesperson said: “The allegation is utterly false. Members of CEO Pack’s senior leadership team have never even met the people who are lodging attacks against them. This team has been directed to protect U.S. national security, and it is dedicated to addressing over a decade of severe and systemic security catastrophes that it inherited from the agency’s prior failed leadership. There is a lot of disinformation and misinformation being propagated by certain individuals who desire U.S. taxpayer dollars but want no oversight on how those funds are spent.”
Kligerman has said his removal was “retaliation.” His colleague Grant Turner, who was ousted as CFO on Wednesday, is exploring all legal options related to his firing.
Their ouster has also led to questions about why Kligerman, Turner and the other people removed on Wednesday, rather than some others who are staying at the agency, have been held accountable for supposed management failings in the past.
Three current and former officials of USAGM or its predecessor agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, have asked why USAGM chief operating officer André Mendes wasn’t among the officials removed on Wednesday given that he served in senior leadership roles at a time when, according to Pack, there was a breakdown in the vetting of foreign nationals who were hired during those years to be journalists for USAGM’s broadcast networks.
Some USAGM employees, too, strongly disagreed with the assertion that the agency allowed lower standards for vetting and said officials had wanted to use an even more detailed and rigorous process but were denied the ability to do so by the Office of Personnel Management. Mendes didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Pack is testifying in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sept. 24, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairman, said Pack will be expected to explain his “outrageous actions” as the head of USAGM.
“He is destroying the decades-old legacy of America’s international broadcasting efforts in a clear attempt to transform the agency into an ideological mouthpiece to promote Donald Trump in advance of the election,” Engel said in a statement. “The United States is not a dictatorship, and I will not stand by as Donald Trump tries to create a Soviet Tass or Chinese Xinhua government mouthpiece through his henchman, Michael Pack.”