President Donald Trump’s attempt to force the government of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden was launched through a disinformation campaign whose first and chief propagator was John Solomon, a conservative columnist with a pattern of publishing false and misleading stories. His work, according to the Washington Post, “has played an important role in advancing a flawed, Trump-friendly tale of corruption in Ukraine.”
Solomon began his career as a reporter for the Associated Press, but subsequently bounced around in right-wing media from the Washington Times to a website called Circa News (owned by Sinclair Media and now defunct). In 2012, the Columbia Journalism Review concluded that Solomon “has a history of bending the truth to his story line” and “distorting facts and hyping petty stories.” Among his claims to infamy is publishing the debunked Uranium One conspiracy.
Starting in March of this year, Solomon’s articles in The Hill and his tweets spun out a web of conspiracy theories, in some cases then tweeted by Trump: that parts of the Ukrainian government in coordination with the U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch colluded to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign by leaking financial records of Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman (who had been a consultant to the Russian backed Ukrainian president deposed in the 2014 revolution Viktor Yanukovych); that the U.S. ambassador had pressured the Ukraine prosecutor not to investigate a George Soros-backed group and “Soros-connected names” who helped the Clinton campaign in the alleged scheme; and that the ambassador told the prosecutor not to investigate a list of individuals and that, according to the prosecutor, former Vice President Joe Biden was supposedly attempting to quash the prosecutor’s probe of his son Hunter’s involvement with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.
Solomon depicted a second innocent victim of these conspiracies in addition to Trump: Ukrainian oligarch Dimitry Firtash, “a major target of the Soros group.” Firtash — close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian mafia kingpin Semion Mogilevich, and a chief financier of former Ukrainian president Yanukovych — is fighting extradition to avoid U.S. federal charges of bribery and racketeering. Solomon wrote that Robert Mueller’s investigation was attempting to frame Firtash to get “some dirt on Donald Trump,” but that the case against Firtash was “falling apart.” Solomon stated, “The oligarch’s defense team told me that Firtash rejected the deal because he didn’t have credible information or evidence.”
The State Department labeled the charges in Solomon’s initial article about Yovanovitch “an outright fabrication.” Later, the Ukrainian prosecutor Solomon quoted as his source, Yuri Lutsenko, was dismissed from his position and disavowed Solomon’s reporting, saying that Hunter Biden “did not violate anything” and now said that his statements to Solomon about a do-not-prosecute list were false. Lutsenko is now under criminal investigation for abuse of power. Meanwhile, the effort to extradite Firtash to face corruption charges continues.
When the scandal broke about Trump and Ukraine, uncomfortable facts emerged about Solomon that cast a new light on how he came to write his articles. Solomon admitted that he had used Lev Parnas to arrange his interviews and serve as his translator. Solomon also sent his work in draft form to Parnas apparently for vetting. Parnas, along with his associate Igor Fruman, worked closely with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, on the Ukraine intrigues, and were reportedly trying to alter the management of Naftogaz, a Ukrainian gas and oil company, to obtain lucrative contracts. Parnas paid Giuliani $500,000 for consulting on his company called Fraud Guarantee while Firtash paid Parnas through DiGenova and Toensing as “a translator.” CNN reported on the scale of Firtash’s financial support for Parnas:
Parnas boasted that his newfound luxurious lifestyle was bankrolled by Firtash, two sources told CNN. Beginning in mid-August, this included around-the-clock bodyguards, two luxury SUVs for his entourage, and at least six private charter flights in the past several months… he talked about how he was cultivating Firtash for his own business interests. “I’m the best-paid interpreter in the world,” Parnas joked.
On October 10, Parnas and Fruman were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy for fraudulent campaign contributions. The Indictment states that a Russian national (who is not Firtash) “arranged for two $500,000 wires on or about September 18, 2018 and October 16, 2018 to be sent from overseas accounts to a U.S. corporate bank account controlled by Fruman and another individual.”
Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, associates of Giuliani, surfaced as Parnas and Fruman’s attorneys. They are also the lawyers for Dimitry Firtash, who was revealed to be the source of the original disinformation about Biden, which Firtash’s attorneys delivered to Giuliani. Then, Politico disclosed that DiGenova and Toensing are Solomon’s lawyers as well. Solomon gave them at least one of his stories fully in draft form before it appeared (he says for “fact-checking” purposes), unsurprising since they orchestrated his sources. Solomon claimed that he met Parnas through former Congressman Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, who had accepted campaign contributions from Parnas and Fruman, and did their bidding in writing a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding the dismissal of U.S. ambassador Yovanovitch, who was an obstacle to the Giuliani scheme against Biden. Giuliani gave Pompeo a packet of Solomon’s articles in the effort to instigate Yovanovitch’s firing.
Immediately after the Trump-Ukraine scandal was exposed, Solomon abruptly left his perch at The Hill and was hired by Fox News, where he had previously appeared dozens of times to amplify his conspiracy theories. Now, he poses behind the image of an investigative reporter manqué at Fox News while maintaining radio silence about the details of his own convoluted role.
In recent weeks, Trump, Hannity, and Giuliani have all proclaimed that Solomon deserves a Pulitzer Prize.
Many questions about Solomon’s part in the disinformation operation remain unanswered. Here are a few:
1. Did you ever take money or benefit, directly or indirectly, from Dmitry Firtash? Did DiGenova and Toensing introduce you to Firtash to serve as your source? Was it before they formally became his attorneys? To whom and how much did Firtash pay to generate and circulate the disinformation that you published?
2. How much did you pay Parnas? Was it your own money? Whose money was it? Was your employment or use of Parnas arranged by DiGenova and Toensing? Explain the involvement of your attorneys in the full range of your transactions with Parnas.
3. When did you hire DiGenova and Toensing as your attorneys and for what matters? How much have you paid them, over how long a period of time and for which specific services?
4. How many articles have you written that included information provided from sources you knew to be clients of your lawyers, DiGenova and Toensing? On what topics?
5. When you were publishing stories about the Clintons’ alleged involvement with the Uranium One company, did you tell your editors that one or more of your sources were represented by your lawyer Victoria Toensing? Beyond relying on your lawyer, what due diligence did you do to assess the credibility of those now discredited sources?
6. Rudy Giuliani sent Secretary of State Pompeo a file containing your articles and raw interview notes you conducted in the effort to fire U.S. ambassador Yovanovitch. Were you aware beforehand that Giuliani was involving Pompeo in the scheme? Detail the full scope of your involvement with and knowledge of Giuliani’s activities.
7. You claim that you met Parnas through Congressman Pete Sessions. When did you first become aware of the Parnas and Fruman financial contributions to Sessions? What other favors has Sessions done for you?
8. In your stories on Attorney General William Barr’s probe of the origins of the investigation of Russian intervention into the U.S. election of 2016, in which you have claimed FBI abuses and “troubling questions” about the Mueller Report, are you relying on DiGenova and Toensing, longtime associates of Barr, in communication with him to help you?
9. Did you enlist your attorneys to speak to Attorney General Barr to help you get a new job at Fox News from its chairman Rupert Murdoch? Was the subject of your employment raised in their meeting on October 9?
10. ProPublica reports that “Johanna Derlega, then The Hill’s publisher, wrote two memos to the company’s president, Richard Beckman, worrying that Solomon was tearing down the traditional wall separating the business side and the news coverage. She noted that Solomon [as executive vice president for Hill.TV] had negotiated a nearly $160,000 advertising deal with Job Creators Network, targeting business owners in Maine. Solomon then had a quote from that group’s director inserted in the story.” Was that the only story in which you intervened in which you had a financial stake in what has been described as “pay-to-play news?” How much money would you calculate you personally gained from writing or editing self-interested stories in The Hill? Derlega was forced out of her job at The Hill in April 2018. Did you play any role in her removal?
11. In May 2018, Bob Cusack, editor in chief of The Hill, notified colleagues that you would be “busy with our video initiatives, but effective immediately when he writes for us, it will be as an opinion contributor.” What precipitated that demotion? More recently, were you fired from The Hill?
12. Does Fox News fact check your stories?