Pai Declines To Discuss Trump Meetings

On the Hill this morning at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, the FCC chairman told lawmakers they would have to ask the White House if they wanted to know what was said at his two meetings with President Trump. However, he said he has had no contact with any administration official about companies with business before the FCC and he pledged to maintain the independence of the agency. Pai also side-stepped comment on Trump's assertions that CNN and Big Three networks' news divisions were the "enemy of the America public." Pai and the other two commissioners discussed the post-auction repack of the TV band, suggesting they would oppose forcing stations off the air for failing to meet the deadline for moving to new channels.

Appearing before the Senate Commerce Committee today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was mum on the substance of his two meetings with President Trump over the past two months — one in January, just before Trump appointed Pai chairman and the second, on Monday, just before he nominated Pai to another full term.

Under questioning from Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Pai said he would defer to the White House on disclosing what was said at the meetings. “I am not at liberty to say.”

Pressed on whether they discussed any “specific company that interacts with the FCC,” Pai again said he couldn’t comment. “I leave that to the White House to disclose.”

Pressed again, Pai said that he had had no conversation with Trump or “anybody else at the White House” about AT&T’s pending acquisition of Time Warner, whose CNN has been the target of much of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric.

But Pai gave Udall assurance of that he would defend the independence of the FCC — “Absolutely, sir” — and would report to the committee any untoward contacts from the White House to the extent required by “the appropriate protocols” and ethics rules.

“We are an independent agency and for any matter that is placed before me I will take a sober look at the facts that are based on the facts submitted by the interested parties,” he said. “I will render a decision based on the law and the precedents that apply to those facts. I will make a determination based on what I and my colleagues believe is in the public interest.”


Udall also wanted to know what Pai thought about Trump’s “open hostility” toward the media, particularly his tweet that CNN and the Big Three network news organizations were the “enemy of the American public.”

Pai did not take the bait, saying that he didn’t “want to wade into the larger political debates.”

“You refuse to answer that?” Udall asked.

“On, no, Senator, I believe that every American enjoys the First Amendment protection guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The other two sitting commissioners — Republican Michael O’Rielly and Democratic Mignon Clyburn — also testified at the oversight hearing.

Under questioning from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), all three more or less said they would support legislation that would prohibit the FCC from forcing stations off the air because they failed to meet the current 39-month deadline for making the move to new channels in the post-auction repack.

Clyburn said she would support any measure “that would complement our goal of insuring that no consumer is negatively harmed.” Pai agreed and O’Rielly did, too, although he said his support would depend on how the legislation was written.

Asked later whether 39 months was enough time for broadcasters to make their moves, Pai said he couldn’t yet say. “We are going to go where the facts take us. We are just not sure exactly what the time frame will be.”

Pai also declined to endorse broadcasters’ push to expand the fund for reimbursing the hundreds of broadcasters that will be moving channels. The fund, to be drawn from the auction proceeds, is now set at $1.75 billion.

Pai said the FCC should have a better handle on how much the auction will cost broadcasters three months after the March 30 close of the auction (the end of June) when the FCC gets the cost estimates from the migrating broadcasters.

Based on those estimates, he said, the FCC will “take the appropriate action.”

Pai that that there was no basis for the FCC to review the AT&T-Time Warner merger.

“As I understand how the parties have structured the transaction,” Pai said, “there is no license that would be transferred from one party to the other, which … is the jurisdictional hook under the Communications Act for us to apply the public interest standard. “

Pai promised Schatz a legal memo affirming Pai’s opinion.

Schatz also complained that Trump did not re-nominate Jessica Rosenworcel to fill the empty Democratic seat on the commission at the same time he re-nominated Pai. Rosenworcel’s first term lapsed at the end of last year and she was forced to give up her seat.

“The Senate should have confirmed her to a term last year and I’m counting on everyone to honor their original commitment,” Schatz said. “I hope we can get back to the long tradition of pairing these nominations so that both Jessica and the chairman can move through the Senate floor quickly.”

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