No media figure has played a larger role in laying the foundation for the current impeachment saga than John Solomon. Solomon worked in lockstep with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a shady cast of characters to manufacture a disinformation campaign targeting one of President Donald Trump’s political rivals, a campaign that backfired spectacularly and resulted in the president being impeached. Solomon has now announced his latest gaslighting venture -- a new media outlet Just the News -- one day after documents were released that conclusively show Solomon working with a now-indicted associate of Giuliani to advance their disinformation.
Solomon is one of the most critical figures in Trump and Giuliani’s plot to extort the Ukrainian government into meddling in our 2020 election to help the president.
Trump hired Giuliani in late 2018 for his legal team responding to the special counsel Robert Mueller’ investigation into Russian electoral interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Purportedly as part of this effort, Giuliani worked closely with a team of players to create a two-pronged conspiracy theory that both smeared former Vice President Joe Biden as well as discredit the Mueller report by showing that it was really Ukraine that interfered with our 2016 election.
Giuliani’s team included Solomon, two now-indicted con men Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and the pro-Trump legal duo (and Fox News fixtures) Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova. They worked together to secure interviews with discredited and disgraced former Ukranian prosecutors and government officials to weave a complex conspiracy theory alleging that corrupt Ukrainian officials colluded with equally corrupt American officials to frame Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort in order to discredit Trump and benefit his 2016 political opponent Hillary Clinton. (Manafort is currently serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence due to his work in Ukraine.) At the same time, according to their theory, the Ukranian government was also aiding Biden in supposedly getting investigations into the Burisma gas company shut down because his son Hunter served on the board. Through this disinformation campaign, they targeted the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch whose anti-corruption initiatives in Ukraine put her in the crosshairs of the very Ukranian officials Giuliani needed to concoct this conspiracy theory.
Solomon’s columns at The Hill was the primary vehicle through which they injected this narrative into the public. Giuliani has stated that he “turned my stuff over to John Solomon,” but as more information about their work comes to light, Solomon’s involvement appears more direct. Instant messages recently released by the House Intelligence Committee show Parnas working as an intermediary between Solomon and at least two of the corrupt Ukranian prosecutors used to support this conspiracy, Yuri Lutsenko and Viktor Shokin. Giuliani appears to have made a deal with Lutsenko: If Lutsenko gives them dirt on Biden, he’ll get Yovanovitch fired.
At the same time, the messages show Parnas serving as an intermediary for Solomon to interview Lutsenko, even appearing to send him advanced copies of Solomon’s columns prior to publication. ProPublica reported that Parnas even was in the control room when Solomon interviewed Lutsenko for The HillTV. Solomon’s resulting columns set the stage to make public a behind-the-scenes smear campaign targeting Yovanovitch and Biden. Parnas played a similar role in facilitating interviews between Solomon and Viktor Shokin, the disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor who was fired in 2016 as a result of pressure by the United States and the international community.
Another key player in this scheme is Firtash, a Ukranian pro-Russian oligarch and former business associate of Paul Manafort who is in Austria fighting extradition to the United States to face charges related to a bribery conspiracy. In the summer of 2019, Firtash fired his legal team to hire diGenova and Toensing, who were working closely with Parnas, Giuliani, and Solomon. (As it turns out, diGenova and Toensing also represented Solomon.) Parnas has recently claimed that Firtash agreed to work with Giuliani and his cronies to help them discredit the Mueller investigation in exchange for getting his extradition case dropped. Parnas alleged that Solomon played a key role in helping him connect with Firtash, saying “Basically I was given certain documents by John Solomon that would validate to Dimitri Firtash that I was in the loop and that I knew what was going on, because Mr. Firstash is a gentleman that just doesn't see anybody.”
All told in 2019, Solomon published dozens of columns in The Hill aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation and planting the seeds of this new Ukrainian element of the conspiracy theory. Solomon brought the conspiracy theory to Fox News and Fox Business, where he has appeared at least 92 times since March 20 through the end of 2019 to push elements of the conspiracy theory, in some cases alongside his attorneys diGenova and Toensing. None of the three ever disclosed their relationship to each other. Hannity gushed over Solomon’s work, hosting him at least 65 times during this same time period. Solomon’s efforts paid off when Fox News announced in October 2019 that it was hiring him as a contributor; he had recently announced he was leaving The Hill.
Solomon’s work also became a critical part of Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Multiple witnesses testified that his reporting was inaccurate but nonetheless led to Yovanovitch’s removal.
“Just the News”
In the same week that incriminating evidence has been released showing Solomon’s deep role in the Ukranian scandal, Solomon announced his latest venture, Just the News. Solomon is pitching the outlet as the answer to “the growing need for fact-based, impartial news and compelling digital content” that will feature “fact-based news without an agenda, with a neutral voice and with unprecedented transparency.” In reality, readers should expect anything but.
Solomon began his career as a mainstream reporter and has leveraged that experience to provide him cover for the decades of right-wing propaganda he has advanced since. A 2012 Columbia Journalism Review profile noted that “Solomon has a history of bending the truth to his storyline” and that he “was notorious for massaging facts to conjure phantom scandals.”
And “conjure phantom scandals” he does. For instance, prior to his involvement in the Ukraine disinformation campaign, Solomon was a key player in advancing the manufactured Uranium One scandal, another thoroughly debunked and discredited conspiracy theory that was first deployed to damage Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Solomon revived and revised the conspiracy theory in 2017 -- when Trump needed an assist in his efforts to discredit the Mueller investigation -- by reporting without evidence that “Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation” when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state as part of a scheme to ensure the Uranium One deal’s success. He suggested that Mueller, as FBI director, had covered up Russia’s attempt to bribe the Clintons. In November 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed U.S. Attorney John Huber to investigate, and The Washington Post recently reported that Huber is winding down his two-year review without bringing any criminal charges or finding any “other known impacts.”
While Solomon was at Circa in 2016-2017 -- and continuing into his time at The Hill -- he emerged as a key figure on Hannity’s Fox show. Circa under Solomon fueled Hannity’s show with pro-Trump stories on a nightly basis. It was during this stretch, all the way into 2019, that Hannity was working to spin a counternarrative to the charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Solomon’s “slanted reporting” was a fundamental part of Hannity’s conspiracy theories.
A quick glance at “trusted reporters” Solomon has partnered with to provide “honest journalism” at Just the News shows a familiar cabal of discredited journalists with a penchant for advancing right-wing conspiracy theories. For instance:
Peter Schweizer is a Breitbart senior editor-at-large and president of conservative think tank Government Accountability Institute, both of which have been heavily funded by the pro-Trump billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer and which were previously headed by former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon. Schweizer is also the creator of several popular conspiracy theories about the Clinton family, including originating the aforementioned Uranium One allegations.
Even prior to Solomon’s involvement, the story of Hunter Biden’s role with Ukrainian gas company Burisma first gained traction on the right when Schweizer wrote about it in his 2018 book, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends. Schweizer’s claims garnered airtime on Fox but had largely receded until Solomon revived it with his reporting in March 2019. Schweizer’s next book, Profiles in Corruption, is set to release January 21 and promises to target 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.
Sharyl Attkisson is a former CBS news reporter who left the network in 2014 due to her shoddy reports about the Obama administration.She was also “widely criticized within medical-research circles” for her reports about vaccines. Sources close to CBS News executives told Politico in 2013 that the network was concerned her reporting was “wading dangerously close to advocacy,” including her obsessive promotion of then-colleague Lara Logan’s disastrous 60 Minutes Benghazi report. CBS News ultimately retracted and apologized for the report, and Logan took a leave of absence but never returned to CBS.
After leaving CBS, Attkisson also embarrassed her next employer, The Daily Signal, with faulty reporting falsely claiming that “Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to ‘separate’ damaging documents” about the Benghazi attack prior to handing them over to investigators. Attkisson also published a book, alleging that the Obama administration hacked her personal computer, TV, phone, and home security system in retaliation for her often-incorrect Benghazi reporting. (CBS News did find that her work-issued laptop was breached using “sophisticated” methods, but no cyberattacker was ever named.) Attkisson kept changing her story about who did the hack and which devices of hers were hacked, but a 2015 federal investigation found no evidence that her personal computer was hacked. Attkisson also falsely accused Media Matters of accepting a payoff to specifically “target” her.
In 2015, Attkisson got a show with Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing, pro-Trump TV network, and the disgraced reporter fit right in. Before her Sinclair show launched, Attkisson happened to be responsible for one of the earliest cycles of campaign-era Trump spin, when Trump promoted her misleading insistence that Trump called then-Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a war hero four times. Trump was plainly being sarcastic in each of the four instances he called McCain a “war hero,” including the now-infamous line: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Attkisson conducted a typically softball interview with Trump in 2017, inviting him to make unchecked, demonstrably false claims about a wide range of issues.
David Brody is the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, a provider of generally right-wing Christian programming. Brody has a history of hostility toward LGBTQ people, once attacking a male blogger as a Republican senator’s “angry girlfriend.” Brody also opposed a transgender Obama appointee simply for being trans, writing, “There will be those who say all that matters is whether or not Simpson is qualified for the job. … Here's a newsflash for you: The transgender thing doesn't play well with millions of conservative Evangelicals.” Brody also declared that Trump was the “Big Winner” of the racist birther campaign against President Barack Obama, because Obama did ultimately release his birth certificate.
Brody has granted Trump at least 10 interviews since his 2016 campaign and continues to drive talking points that align with the administration’s positions. On a 2017 episode of Fox & Friends, Brody complained that calls for Christian leaders to denounce white supremacy, including the then-recent murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, showed that “the fix is in, if you will against evangelical Christians, white evangelical Christians in this country.” Brody was also one of many right-wing media figures piling onto Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) with a deceptively edited clip purporting to show her saying that people should be afraid of white men. In reality, she was criticizing religious profiling.
Lee Smith is a pro-Trump author, who recently published The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History. The book advances the conspiracy theory that a “deep state” plot to take down Trump “officially began July 31, 2016 with the counterintelligence investigation that the FBI opened to probe Russian infiltration of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Smith has described the impeachment inquiry as “a secret ritual conducted by a cult” with “Speaker Pelosi as the high priestess of the cult and Adam Schiff as a high priest.”