Congress is preparing to ask the State Department inspector general to conduct an investigation into the Voice of America and whether it was pressured by China to halt a live broadcast of an exiled Chinese businessman.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), meanwhile, questioned VOA's handling of the interview with the businessman, Guo Wengui, during Senate testimony Tuesday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On the inspector general probe, the request for the probe is expected in the next few days. "Members of the House and Senate are in the process of putting together a formal request," said one congressional aide.
Rubio expressed concerns about the decision by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group that runs U.S. government radio broadcasting, to cut $4.5 million from the pro-democracy Radio Free Asia, effectively ending its Mandarin language broadcasts into China.
The senator also raised the issue of VOA's handling of the Guo interview. The real estate tycoon has claimed there is extensive corruption within the Chinese Communist Party. The Washington Free Beacon first reported on the VOA dispute May 23, and the RFA budget cut on June 13.
"The Chinese government got very upset about this interview," Rubio said. "They actually issued a red notice on Interpol to try to wrap him up and the like."
"This interview was cut short," he added. "The person who conducted the interview, Sasha Gong, who I believe was the head of the Mandarin radio broadcast, is on suspension. And now there's this fight going on internally."
Rubio then asked Tillerson if the $4.5 million cut to RFA broadcasts and the canceling of the Guo interview are part of Trump administration efforts to improve relations with China.
"I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China," Tillerson said.
Tillerson was then asked if he would support an IG investigation into the dispute within VOA.
"I'd like a look at it, get a greater understanding myself," he said. "But certainly, if it would seem that there's been anything improperly done there, we should call for an investigation."
"The concern is basically that we cannot allow geopolitical pressures from China to influence our ability to broadcast truth, and particularly in that language, in Mandarin," Rubio said. "And so, obviously the we want to understand whether that's what happened or not."
Tillerson said he strongly agreed with the senator.
A VOA spokeswoman referred questions about the IG probe to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which did not respond to requests for comment.
The Guo interview broadcast live on VOA April 19 was cut off after an hour and 20 minutes and four employees, including the director of VOA's Mandarin radio service, were suspended.
The four employees asked Congress in an open letter to investigate whether China pressured the Trump administration to call off the interview.
Guo, until recently, maintained close ties to senior Chinese Community Party leaders, including ministers and members of the ruling Politburo.
Beginning in April, Guo began hosting a series of YouTube videos exposing what he said was corruption among senior Chinese leaders.
Additionally, Guo was a close associate of Ma Jian, a Ministry of State Security vice minister who was imprisoned on corruption charges.
Guo has said he was using overseas business activities on behalf of the MSS, the civilian intelligence service, asserting that he has no formal relationship with MSS beyond the use of his business resources.
The MSS uses surrogates like Guo to fund private investigators who spy on the offspring of high-ranking Chinese officials in the United States.
Chinese leaders often send their children to American universities and many Chinese elites engaged in business in the United States.
The exiled businessman's ties to the MSS could provide a windfall for of intelligence about Chinese activities in the United States to the FBI and CIA.
One of Guo's more explosive disclosures is that he has information related to corruption about the family of Wang Qishan, the senior Party official in charge of President Xi Jinping's nationwide anti-corruption drive.