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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) is suing the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) over roughly $20 million in congressionally appropriated funds it says the government is refusing to provide, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: There's bipartisan uproar from Congress over the funding that OTF says is being withheld. The USAGM, whose new CEO is seeking to replace OTF leaders with Trump loyalists, is required by law to provide the funding via federal grants, but it has given shifting rationales for why the money has been held up.

The big picture: The OTF is a government-supported nonprofit focused on advancing internet freedom. Without funds, it can't support work by activist journalists in places like Hong Kong and Belarus, where authorities are increasingly cracking down on internet freedom.

Details: The lawsuit, set to be filed Thursday in federal claims court, alleges the USAGM breached its contracts with the OTF in three ways:

  1. It withheld about $9.4 million in funding that it owes under OTF’s 2020 grant agreement.
  2. It withheld an additional $9.8 million in prior OTF program grants held by Radio Free Asia, OTF’s former parent organization.
  3. A USAGM senior adviser "engaged in transparently pretextual efforts to force OTF into breaching its grant agreement."

The lawsuit also says two chief financial officers at the USAGM flagged that it was illegal to withhold the funds, but the USAGM tried to move forward with the plan anyway.

  • The first CFO, Grant Turner, a longtime career civil servant, was ordered by a USAGM adviser last week to “cease and desist” transferring a portion of the promised OTF funding. Turner also protested the unlawful transfer of
    those OTF funds to another account.
  • Turner said, according to the lawsuit, that the USAGM's efforts are a “thin cover” for the “operational destruction” of the OTF.
  • The following day, Turner’s replacement, acting CFO John Barkhamer, also refused to comply with the order to transfer funds into another account, according to the lawsuit. He resigned in protest and reported USAGM leadership's conduct to the inspector general for the agency.

Be smart: The issue of funding the OTF is particularly sensitive, given that the USAGM announced on Tuesday that it plans to create and fund its own Office of Internet Freedom. Sources fear the agency is withholding the OTF's funds in order to shift them to its new agency, which is illegal if done without congressional approval.

Read the lawsuit.

Go deeper: Accusations of hobbling internet freedom fund roil U.S. media agency

Go deeper

Oct 28, 2020 - Health

MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test

Justin Turner (front center) and the Los Angeles Dodgers pose for a photo after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series. Photo: Ronald Martinez via Getty Images

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner will be investigated after he left isolation to celebrate with the team on the field, the MLB said in a statement on Wednesday. Turner’s case is the first positive of the playoffs, which closed with the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988, and it now threatens to be overshadowed by the possibility of an outbreak. Outbreaks sidelined at least two teams before the MLB announced that the playoffs would adhere to the "bubble" concept adopted by other leagues.

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

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