Allegations of improprieties related to the Commission's review of the merger between Sinclair and Tribune

In response to requests from Congress made on November 13 and November 15. 20! 7, the Federal Communications Commission Oflice of Inspector General (OlG) conducted an investigation into whether FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Chairman Pai "has taken actions to improperly benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group and "is executing his leadership of the FCC free from influences that compromise his objectivity and impartiality," especially with regard to the proposed merger of Sinclair and Tribune Media." 

After a comprehensive investigation including review of the emails, phone records and visitor logs noted above, coupled with interviews of the Chief of Staff and Chairman Pai, we found no evidence, nor even the suggestion, of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger. Our review did not reveal any improper actions. When asked specific questions as to whether any actions that ultimately may have inured to Sinclair’s benefit were influenced by any promises or threats either by Sinclair or any other entity, including President Trump or the Executive Office of President, the Chairman unequivocally replied in the negative. These responses were confirmed by the Chairman’s Chief of Staff. We have found no evidence that would lead us to question these responses.To the contrary, actions taken by Chairman Pai in the rulemakings identified in the letters from Congress are, as he stated in his interview, consistent with his long-held, and publicly espoused, policy beliefs. Based on our findings, we would recommend no further investigation into this issue at this time.

Prior to his appointment as FCC chairman, then-FCC Commissioner Pai met with President-Elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower -- in what Pai reffered to as a “job interview.”  Trump asked him if he was interested in becoming chairman of the FCC. Pai said yes. Also in attendance at the meeting were Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  “Mr. Trump then asked Commissioner Pai to explain ‘what I had been doing.’ He had his (Pai’s) resume in front of him. Pai detailed his telecommunications experience and explained his vision for the future that included broadband infrastructure advancements and his personal dedication to making the internet accessible and affordable throughout rural America,” the report says. “The President-elect did not ask any specific policy-related questions, nor did he question him about his regulatory philosophy, although he was interested in the legal framework of the AT&T/Time Warner merger,” he wrote. “There was no discussion about Sinclair or any specific FCC proceeding.” While the meeting was publicized at the time, the report newly revealed that Trump “was interested in the legal framework” of AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, a deal Trump had criticized publicly. Months later the Justice Department would go on to sue to block the deal, failing to mount a successful court challenge. The result is being appealed.On July 16, the report said, Chairman Pai received a phone call from White House lawyer Donald McGahn, who wanted to know the status of the FCC’s Sinclair merger review. Asked this month about contacts between the Trump administration and the FCC concerning the merger, Chairman Pai told reporters that the White House had never “contacted us to express a view” about the deal.

Then, on May 5, 2017, Chairman Pai received a cryptic email from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, according to the probe. The email contained the message “Just tried you — had a quick thing to run by you." The report added that Chairman Pai received a phone call from a blocked number at 10:03 a.m. Chairman Pai did not remember the exchange, according to the inspector general’s report.

Allegations of improprieties related to the Commission's review of the merger between Sinclair and Tribune F.C.C. Investigation Clears Chairman in Sinclair Inquiry (NYTimes) Pai Showed Sinclair No Favoritism, FCC Watchdog Finds (WSJ) Internal probe finds ‘no evidence of impropriety’ by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai toward Sinclair Broadcast Group (WashPost) Inspector General: Trump Queried FCC’s Ajit Pai on ‘Legal Framework’ of AT&T-Time Warner Merger (Variety) Inspector General: Candidate Trump Queried Pai on AT&T/TW Merger Structure (B&C)