A former talk radio host who regularly promoted conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama and officials in his administration is now serving as an adviser at the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), a source familiar told CNN.
Frank Wuco’s hiring is among the latest of the controversial moves undertaken at the agency during the tenure of CEO Michael Pack. Those actions include several staff shakeups, with a group of senior executives placed on administrative leave for what they believe is retaliation on Wednesday night.
In his short tenure, Pack — President Donald Trump’s controversial pick to lead the agency whose mission “is to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” — also ousted the heads of Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund in an “unprecedented move,” sought evidence of disloyalty among the workforce, and moved to place an individual from an anti-LBGT organization on the board.
In late July, leadership indicated that international journalists who work for Voice of America (VOA) would not have their visas extended and a widely respected top editor at Radio Free Asia was fired.
The actions have drawn alarm and scrutiny from staff and bipartisan lawmakers and has heightened concerns that Pack intends to turn the agency into a political arm of the administration.
As CNN’s KFILE reported in 2017, Wuco – a former naval intelligence officer and conservative talk radio host who has served in a number of Trump administration roles – regularly promoted unfounded far-right conspiracy theories.
And as KFILE found in 2019, Wuco also once said he thought then-President Obama was a Kenyan and called House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi a Nazi whose Botox had worn off.
Among the conspiracy theories Wuco pushed were claims that Obama’s memoir was ghost written by former anti-Vietnam War radical Bill Ayers, that former CIA director John Brennan converted to Islam and former Attorney General Eric Holder had been a member of the Black Panthers. He also promoted the false conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the United States, lamented the “Zimbabwe-fication of America,” and mocked the LGBT community.
Wuco started in the front office several weeks ago, the source said. It is unclear the full extent of his responsibilities, but he is overseeing an audit of the Office of Policy and Research.
Politico was first to report on Wuco’s post at USAGM.
Asked about his hiring, a USAGM spokesperson did not directly address the question and instead 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.”
In addition to Wuco’s new role, another Wednesday night shakeup has also roiled the agency.
Seven senior officials -— Chief Financial Officer Grant Turner, General Counsel David Kligerman, Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Powers, Deputy Director for Operations Matt Walsh, Executive Director Oanh Tran, Director of Management Services Marie Lennon and the Chief of the Office of Security Andrew Jansen — were all placed on administrative leave for alleged security failures related to an Office of Personnel Management report, the source familiar said.
This source said the officials expect they will be terminated and feel that they are being targeted for political reasons or because they tried to call attention to wrongdoing.
Asked about the matter and why the officials were placed on leave, the USAGM spokesperson said, “We took action to restore integrity to and respect for the rule of law in our work at USAGM. We will take additional steps to help return this agency to its glory days.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel sounded the alarm on the shakeup, saying in a statement late Wednesday night that the “actions smack of illegal retaliation.”
“It is a clear attempt to cover up his wrongdoing to date and to silence those who might voice concern about his future actions. I intend to get answers and I will also ask the Office of Inspector General to launch a probe,” the New York Democrat said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that seven senior officials were placed on administrative leave.
CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, Nathan McDermott and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.