Thanks to the persistence of Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, Gigi Sohn — nominated by President Biden to a seat on the Federal Communications Commission — appeared for a second time before the Senate Commerce Committee to address issues about her political biases and business ethics.
She did not acquit herself well.
Some Republicans, Mr. Wicker included, used the Feb. 9 hearing to ask her about tweets and other remarks she made or “retweeted” regarding the Republican Party being full of “white supremacists,” about Fox News being “state-sponsored propaganda” and how “Republicans know the only way they can win an election is to suppress the vote.”
These remarks, which one expects from the rank-and-file left, are not the sentiments one wants to see expressed by a person proposed for a position of influence inside the United States government, especially one with significant influence over a sizable chunk of the U.S. economy and constitutional issues like freedom of expression.
Mounting her defense, Ms. Sohn sluffed off questions about her anti-GOP bias by pointing non-specifically to times she had worked with Republicans or said nice things about them, or to who had endorsed her nomination. She may think that’s enough but, as many Republican appointees who have been before Senate committees controlled by Democrats during a confirmation can attest, as a practical matter, it’s not.
Where Ms. Sohn did herself the most damage was in her inability to explain how a $32 million judgment levied against a not-for-profit group on whose board she served came to be reduced to just $700,000 or, as Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said repeatedly during the hearing, “2 cents on the dollar.”
Some have questioned the timing of the settlement related to the announcement of her nomination by the White House. Things happened contemporaneously enough that, on its face, it just looks bad. The winning side — ABC, NBC and CBS — agreed to take much less money just as a board member of the group they sued and won was named to the federal body that regulates them and their industry. Things like that happen in the real world — and without anyone pulling the strings. However, what cannot be overlooked is how Ms. Sohn essentially deceived and deluded Senate members about the settlement terms.
According to Ms. Sohn, the judgment against the nonprofit Sports Fan Coalition NY was announced to the world as $32 million because the broadcasters wanted a big number to deter other groups from trying to do what her group had done. The actual amount of the settlement, $700,000, was kept from senators until it became public through other means.
Ms. Sohn nonetheless asserts she told the committee about it straightforwardly and candidly while at the same time observing a confidentiality clause that prohibited her from disclosing it to anyone in writing. That claim was debunked by Mr. Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, as well as other Republicans on the committee who pointed out that while the agreement she signed may have barred her from issuing statements to the press, it did not prohibit her from making a full disclosure to the Senate committee considering her nomination.
Ms. Sohn’s attempted obfuscation here is unseemly. Senators have the right to expect candor, frankness and transparency from those who testify before them, especially those who they have confirmed to positions of authority within the executive branch or at independent agencies. If she cannot be, she should not become a member of the FCC. The proper vote on her nomination is “No.”
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