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Trump allies dismissed at VOA as Biden administration names new leadership

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration moved quickly on Thursday to name new leadership at Voice of America and other U.S.-funded media, replacing a Trump ally with a news editor he had recently demoted.

In its first full day in office, the Biden administration dismissed the director of Voice of America, Robert Reilly, and his deputy, Elizabeth Robbins, and replaced them with experienced journalists with long careers at VOA and other government-funded networks, according to a statement from the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the media outlets.

Reilly was replaced by Yolanda Lopez, a news editor who will serve as acting director at VOA. Reilly had just days ago reassigned Lopez after one of the journalists under her supervision shouted questions at then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Jan. 11 event at Voice of America headquarters.

Pompeo had given a speech and sat for a question and answer session afterward with Reilly, but reporters were not given a chance to pose questions. When one VOA reporter, White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara, tried to ask questions, Reilly shouted at her, according to a recent protest letter from VOA journalists. Hours later, Widakuswara was kicked off the White House beat by Reilly.

Reilly, a conservative commentator, is the author of such books as “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything.”

Even after Joe Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday, Robbins and another former Trump administration political appointee at the agency, John Jaggers, continued efforts to try to fire several employees on Thursday, according to David Seide, a lawyer representing the employees.

The two pushed to remove the staff members even though the Biden administration had issued instructions to suspend any personnel actions or proceedings at VOA and other networks.

Shortly after midnight early on Thursday, four employees received a letter from Jaggers telling them that they were being removed “as of the date of this letter,” Seide said, who shared excerpts of the document with NBC News.

The new leadership at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which had already formally taken the helm late on Wednesday, quickly rescinded the letters on Thursday, Seide said.

Jaggers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As of about 1 p.m. on Thursday, more than 24 hours after Biden was inaugurated, Elizabeth Robbins sent an email to one employee telling them that an administrative hearing related to their possible removal was about to go forward with or without their attendance.

“It’s another example of petty vindictiveness that is still amazing,” Seide said.

Robbins told NBC News that she believed she was following federal regulations in pursuing the removal of an employee who had allegedly violated the terms of their employment. If the proceeding had gone ahead, it would have been difficult for the new management of VOA to reverse because it would have been held up under federal rules, according to Robbins.

When Robbins was told by the new management that she was being fired, she responded that such a move would be illegal, citing recently adopted legislation on VOA’s governance, Robbins said.

Her work email was then shut off and she was escorted out by security, Robbins said.

The director of VOA, Reilly, also contended his sacking was illegal and he too was escorted out of the building, she said.

Robbins said her removal was “politically motivated” and meant to suppress alleged whistleblower complaints by some employees of VOA.

The Biden administration named Kelu Chao, who has worked for nearly 40 years at VOA as a journalist and manager, as acting CEO of VOA’s parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Brian Conniff, who held senior management positions at the agency and was president of the U.S.-funded Middle East Broadcasting Networks, was named as her deputy.

Chao replaced Michael Pack, a controversial Trump appointee who was accused by lawmakers and press freedom groups of undermining editorial independence at VOA and other outlets. A federal judge had recently barred Pack from making personnel decisions at VOA and other USAGM broadcasters. Pack named Reilly as director of VOA only weeks before the Biden administration was due to take over.

Pack was asked to step down shortly after Biden was inaugurated Wednesday at noon and he announced his resignation before 2 p.m. EST.

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EU vaccine FARCE: MEPs hatch plot to skip queue for Covid jabs using taxpayer cash

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THE European Parliament is planning to open up vaccination centres to hand out priority jabs to MEPs, it has emerged.

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Guard troops back inside Capitol after furor over move to parking garage

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National Guard troops were allowed back into the Capitol to rest after being asked to move, a request that sent some to a parking garage, officials said.

Senators expressed outrage Thursday evening after Politico reported that Capitol Police had asked the troops to move their rest area and some ended up in the garage.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, said that by 10:30 p.m., Capitol Police had apologized to the Guard personnel, who had been allowed back into the complex Thursday night.

Army Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, commander of the inauguration task force, confirmed that troops were out of the parking garage and back in the Capitol and will take breaks near Emancipation Hall going forward.

Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost her legs after the helicopter she was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004, said that forcing the troops out of the Capitol was “unreal.”

“I can’t believe that the same brave servicemembers we’ve been asking to protect our Capitol and our Constitution these last two weeks would be unceremoniously ordered to vacate the building,” Duckworth wrote in a tweet.

Thousands of Guard troops remain in Washington after being called in to help secure Wednesday’s inauguration of Joe Biden, and after a deadly riot by a pro-Trump mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Washington, D.C., National Guard said earlier Thursday that they were asked to move its rest area by Capitol Police.

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“As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities,” the D.C. Guard said.

“We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas,” it said.

Security detail requires a rest and break so troops can get out of the weather, the D.C. Guard said.

Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment after senators said the situation had been resolved and that an apology had been issued.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, vowed to get to the bottom of the situation.

Some lawmakers had offered to let troops stay in their office spaces.

“Congress is in session, but buildings are still closed to public, so there’s plenty of room for troops to take a break in them,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who is also a veteran and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, tweeted.

In the days following the riot and preceding the presidential inauguration, troops were seen resting in between shifts on the marble floors of the Capitol.

National Guard troops from across the country were sent to Washington to provide support. Almost 26,000 were sent.

Approximately 10,600 were on duty Thursday afternoon, and arrangements were being made to send 15,000 home as soon as possible, the National Guard Bureau said.



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