Senate Dems call for investigation into ‘quid pro quo’ between Pai, Trump and Sinclair

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

A group of Democratic senators led by Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tom Udall of New Mexico have asked the FCC inspector general to investigate the impartiality of the Sinclair-Tribune Media deal review.

The group is suggesting there could be a “quid pro quo” relationship between FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Trump administration and Sinclair Broadcast Group. The senators have asked Pai to recuse himself from Sinclair-related proceedings until the investigation is complete.

“We have strong concerns that the FCC’s ongoing review of the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media may be tainted by a series of actions and events that raise questions about the independence and impartiality of the FCC,” wrote the senators to FCC Inspector General David Hunt.

In addition to Cantwell and Udall, senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Patty Murray of Washington, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont also signed the letter.

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In the letter, the senators point to 16 specific points on a timeline that indicate a “disturbing” relationship between Pai, Trump and Sinclair.

The senators mention a reported meeting between then President-elect Donald Trump and Sinclair Chairman and then-CEO David Smith in November 2016 to discuss FCC rule changes, Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner reportedly striking a deal with Sinclair for better Trump coverage, Pai meeting privately with Sinclair representatives at CES in 2017, the FCC reinstating the UHF discount, and upcoming FCC votes on media ownership and ATSC 3.0, both of which the senators say directly benefit Sinclair.

For those reasons and more, the senators are asking Pai to recuse himself.

“It is imperative you recuse yourself from certain matters in order to protect the public interest, integrity and independence of the agency’s decision-making process until after the FCC’s inspector general determines whether the facts warrant your permanent recusal,” said the senators in their letter to Pai.