President Donald Trump’s allies have frequently sought to undermine the case for impeachment by invoking the progressive investor and philanthropist George Soros. They have highlighted Soros’ involvement in Ukrainian affairs to explain away Trump’s abuse of power in that country and seized on any tie, no matter how faint, to present the investigation into the president’s misconduct as a conspiracy. At times their smears of Soros -- a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust -- have echoed vile, centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.
Soros has been a bogeyman for the American right since 2004, when he began heavily funding Democratic presidential candidates and progressive movement organizations. Right-wing commentators have frequently sought to delegitimize progressive politicians, groups, and actions by seizing upon links between them and Soros (conservative media figures had regularly and falsely claimed for years that Soros funded Media Matters before he announced in 2010 that he would support the organization).
But abroad, Soros’ Open Society Foundations fund pro-democracy and anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and other countries in central and eastern Europe, supporting goals that traditionally align with bipartisan U.S. foreign policy in the post-Soviet era. There, his foes are authoritarian strongmen like Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Russia’s Vladimir Putin, both of whom have responded to his efforts by deploying virulent anti-Semitism.
During Trump’s administration, those two threads of Soros criticism, from domestic Republicans and international autocrats, have merged. Trump has shown much more of an affinity for the corrupt authoritarians Soros opposes than he has for traditional democratic allies in Western Europe, and little concern about corruption when it does not directly impact his personal or political interests. And so his allies have begun attacking Soros’ agenda abroad in the same manner in which they’ve traditionally targeted his domestic one. Meanwhile, foreign governments have sought to secure the dismissals of troublesome U.S. diplomats by smearing them as anti-Trump based on their purported links to Soros.
That effort culminated earlier this year with Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and conservative columnist John Solomon channeling the falsehoods of former Ukrainian prosecutors general Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko. Officials who lost their jobs following corruption scandals, they suggested that they had been the victims of a conspiracy masterminded by Soros and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The impeachment inquiry into Trump’s misconduct has given those attacks new urgency, with the president’s allies seeking to blame the entire situation on Soros and link him to as many figures involved in the scandal as possible in order to undermine their damning testimony. Consistent with past domestic and foreign criticism of Soros, those attacks sometimes bleed over into anti-Semitic smears.
Here are 10 ways they’ve brought Soros into the discussion.
Smear 1: Soros is the “puppet master” behind the whole Ukraine story.
Multiple conservative media figures have described Soros as the “puppet master” behind the Ukraine story, invoking a centuries-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of insidious Jewish forces secretly controling world events.
BlazeTV’s Glenn Beck discussed Soros’ links to Ukraine in a November 21 episode titled “The Puppet Master in Ukraine,” claiming that the Jewish philanthropist had been manipulating events for his personal profit and that the State Department had created a “giant cover-up” to hide his work “fomenting revolutions” in that country.
Beck has been using anti-Semitic “puppet master” imagery to describe Soros since 2010, when he was widely condemned for a multipart Fox News special describing him as such. After Beck’s use of Soros imagery with regard to Ukraine was exposed by Media Matters and he was denounced by many on Twitter, he claimed that while “puppet master” imagery can be anti-Semitic, it isn’t when he uses it on Soros.
The fringe-right One America News Network similarly described Soros as a “globalist puppet master” behind Ukraine while paraphrasing an interview with right-wing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.
Smear 2: “Soros’ dirty money” is behind the whistleblower.
On September 26, the House Intelligence Committee released a declassified version of a complaint from a whistleblower detailing an effort by Trump to use “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The country in question was Ukraine, and disclosure of the whistleblower’s complaint had set off a sequence of events that resulted in an impeachment inquiry.
Frequent Fox guests Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing responded to the complaint that night on Fox News’ Hannity by invoking Soros. Noting that the complaint included footnotes to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an international investigative journalism consortium, Toensing said, “One guess, Sean, who funds OOCRP? George Soros.”
“Soros' dirty money is all over this story from day one,” diGenova replied.
According to OCCRP’s website, Open Society Foundations is a funder. But so are the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department, and the governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Toensing and diGenova would later be revealed as part of the group of lawyers, journalists, and con men who worked with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to concoct a series of lies about Ukraine that helped generate Trump’s abuse of power scandal.
Smear 3: Soros groups are behind the “lie” that Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin was “corrupt.”
During the same Hannity segment, diGenova and Toensing claimed that Shokin had been smeared by Soros-linked groups and then was corruptly forced from office by Biden. In fact, Western leaders and institutions widely considered Shokin corrupt at the time Biden followed U.S. policy and pushed for his removal.
Biden “shook down the Ukrainian government,” diGenova claimed, and “lied about” Shokin “being corrupt” to protect Biden’s son.
“U.S. and other people made false statements about him, yeah, that was George Soros-funded NGOs who were also in bed with the State Department,” Toensing explained of Shokin. “They were in bed with each other during that time, in the name of anti-corruption, and it really means that Soros goes after his competitors.”
Smear 4: Soros “controls” State’s George Kent and large portions of the State Department and the FBI.
George Kent, who oversees Ukraine policy as a deputy assistant secretary of state, debunked several meritless Ukraine storylines that had played out in the right-wing media this year in testimony before the impeachment inquiry.
DiGenova responded to this testimony on November 13 by invoking Soros. He claimed during an appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that Soros “controls a very large part of the career foreign service of the United States State Department” as well as “the activities of FBI agents overseas,” and that “Kent was part of that” as “a very big protector of Soros.”
DiGenova’s remarks were widely condemned as anti-Semitic, and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on Fox to permanently ban him from its airwaves. While Fox has not responded to such calls, diGenova disappeared from Fox News and Fox Business for weeks, returning to Fox Business only after Media Matters reported on his absence.
Smear 5: The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine is filled with “Soros people” like Bill Taylor.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer whose shadow foreign policy in Ukraine is one of the subjects of the impeachment inquiry, told Beck during an interview that he had been told by a Ukrainian that the U.S. Embassy there “works for Soros, not Trump.” He added, “They’re all Soros people.”
Giuliani singled out by name acting Ambassador Bill Taylor, who testified before the impeachment inquiry, and stated that the embassy is “holding up the visas for four or five people that could come here and blow up [House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam] Schiff’s completely fraudulent investigation.”
Smear 6: Former National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill is “a globalist whore of Soros.”
Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council staffer, testified to the impeachment inquiry about having been the subject of a smear campaign based on her previous work as an advisory board member to a pro-democracy group founded by Soros. She described such smears as anti-Semitic, stating that the “trope against Mr. George Soros was also created for political purposes, and this is the new ‘Protocols of The Elders of Zion,’” a reference to an infamous anti-Semitic tome.
The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones responded to Hill’s testimony by describing her as “a globalist whore of Soros, a trafficker in evil” and calling for her indictment for perjury. He added, “Her system is about destroying nation-states, tearing cultures apart, and putting it back together in people like Soros’ architecture.”
Charlie Kirk, the president of Talking Points USA and a Trump ally, similarly suggested that Hill might be “fighting so hard to impeach” Trump because she sat on the board of the Soros organization more than a decade ago.
Smear 7: House Democrats’ impeachment counsel is “linked to George Soros.”
Breitbart.com sought to undermine the impeachment inquiry by highlighting that Norm Eisen, a counsel for the House Judiciary Committee who questioned expert witnesses during that committee’s first impeachment hearing, was “linked to George Soros.” That purported link was that Eisen had co-founded the U.S. anti-corruption group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in 2003, which reportedly received funding from Soros’ Open Society Institute.
Smear 8: Ambassador Yovanovitch was monitoring Americans to “protect” Soros.
Former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was removed after she became an impediment to Giuliani’s scheme and was targeted by an extensive right-wing media smear campaign. In October, after she testified to House impeachment investigators about her ordeal, the right-wing group Judicial Watch alleged that she had been “running a war room” by monitoring public statements about Ukraine by people like Hannity, Dobbs, and Giuliani, including references to “Soros.” They claimed this was an “Anti-Trump Enemies List” illegally targeting Americans in part to “protect” Soros.
It was later revealed Yovanovitch was running a basic Facebook search on CrowdTangle, a widely used social media tool. Judicial Watch then described CrowdTangle as a “Soros-linked media tracking tool” on the grounds that the group that determines who gets access to that tool at one time received a donation from Open Society Foundations for a separate project.
Smear 9: Yovanovitch was “working for Soros” after leaving Ukraine.
In a September report detailing Giuliani’s “shadow Ukraine agenda,” The Washington Post reported:
Though she was widely respected in the national security community for her efforts to prod Ukraine to take on corruption, Giuliani targeted Yovanovitch with wild accusations including that she played a secret role in exposing Manafort and was part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the liberal financier George Soros.
“She should be part of the investigation as part of the collusion,” Giuliani said in a recent interview with The Washington Post, adding that “she is now working for Soros.” Yovanovitch is still employed by the State Department and is a fellow at Georgetown University. She declined to comment.
Smear 10: Soros was at the center of supposed Ukrainian collusion during the 2016 election.
During his infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asked him to “do us a favor” and investigate the incoherent conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016, and that the evidence is on the DNC’s server, which is purportedly in Ukraine. As none of this makes any sense at all, Trump’s defenders have often instead tried to defend the president by focusing on the idea that Ukrainians interfered with the 2016 elections in other ways, a case that is dramatically overstated.
At times, those defenses have invoked Soros. As NBC News pointed out:
Giuliani also told CNN that month that an anti-corruption nonprofit in Ukraine that took funding from a Soros philanthropy had fabricated evidence against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the Ukrainians had “brought me substantial evidence of Ukrainian collusion with Hillary Clinton, the D.N.C., George Soros, George Soros' company.”