Over the weekend, Fox News announced that it had made a new hire: John Solomon, the self-proclaimed journalist at the heart of the unfolding scandal involving Ukraine, Rudy Giuliani, and the impending impeachment of Donald Trump. It’s not hard to see why Fox executives may have wanted to bring him aboard. Solomon’s work has underpinned the entire cascade of lies the White House and Trump in particular have pushed over the past few weeks.
Solomon’s writings—including those most recently at The Hill, where he worked until last month—are drenched in innuendo and mischaracterizations, all in service of attacking Trump’s political opponents. Solomon is already a regular Fox News fixture. He appeared on Fox News’s The Story show last week to claim that he was being victimized by “McCarthy-like” attacks. As Mother Jones noted on Solomon’s hiring—which coincided with Giuliani claiming that the man deserves a Pulitzer—Solomon’s “alliance with pro-Trump forces” is now “official.”
For many, Solomon remains far from a household name: a relatively obscure journalist who worked until recently at a relatively obscure outlet pushing relatively obscure stories about relatively obscure countries. But for those who’ve followed his work (which includes a long-ago stint at Newsweek and The Daily Beast), his role in the entire unfolding national nightmare—and the fact that he provided a willing platform to lies and half-truths coming out of Ukraine—wasn’t a surprise.
This is a man, after all, about whom the Columbia Journalism Review wrote not one, not two, but three separate takedowns. (One headline: “John Solomon Gives Us Less Than Meets the Eye — Again”). The most recent topped out at nearly 5,000 words, highlighting Solomon’s “history of bending the truth to his storyline,” as well as his “hyping [of] petty stories” and his outsized habit of “massaging facts to conjure phantom scandals.”
Complaints from colleagues tailed Solomon wherever he went; as one former co-worker said about Solomon’s work, “Facts be damned.” Small wonder that, as The Daily Beast reported last week, staffers at The Hill were “enraged” by his presence at the publication.
But there was one kind of friend on whom Solomon could always count, and who could always count on Solomon’s support in return: post-Soviet officials, oligarchs, and lobbyists looking to launder their image and spin their narrative.
We’ve seen this most clearly over the past few months, as Solomon’s coverage of Ukraine has gained a national audience—and completely fallen apart under the most basic scrutiny. To take one example, Solomon’s writing lent credence to the notion that the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, had given a Ukrainian prosecutor a “do-not-prosecute” list. One problem: there’s no evidence the list ever existed, and the prosecutor himself eventually walked back the claim entirely.
But the damage was already done: The White House this year canned the ambassador, who’s since been personally targeted by Trump as some kind of henchman in former Vice President Joe Biden’s machinations. (For good measure, Solomon this weekend described Ukraine’s successful 2014 revolution to oust corrupt strongman Viktor Yanukovych as a “coup.”)
But Ukraine was far from the only post-Soviet state where crooked actors and dirty money looked for, and found, help from Solomon.
A couple years ago, while I was a graduate student at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, focusing on post-Soviet affairs, I patched together a Master’s thesis on how post-Soviet kleptocrats whitewash their reputations for American audiences. And there, in the middle of a lobbyist-led campaign to clean up the image of Azerbaijan—one of the most heinous, most kleptocratic governments in the world—sat none other than John Solomon.
In 2015, Solomon was an editor at The Washington Times. His tenure there just so happened to coincide with the paper becoming one of the go-to outlets for Azerbaijan’s lobbyists to lie about the brutal Azeri regime’s supposed graces—including pieces that failed to disclose that the authors were on the Azeri dole, like one column by former GOP Congressman Dan Burton, written while he was lobbying for Azerbaijan.
Solomon took some responsibility in that case when contacted by The Washington Post, claiming the lack of disclosure was just an oversight. And when I spoke with Solomon in the context of my research, telling him that one of the pieces—which claimed that “few places in the world… are as welcoming to Americans as Azerbaijan”—still didn’t note it was written by a pro-Azeri lobbyist, he told me that he’d add the disclaimer in. But four years later, the article remains unchanged—and anyone reading it would think the author was simply interested in the pleasures and pastimes of Azerbaijan, and not that he was a paid-off hack.
In the years since, I—like many familiar with his work—have looked askance at anything that Solomon has published, never taking it at face value. And rightfully so, as we’ve recently seen out of Ukraine. Solomon is still massaging facts, and he’s still conjuring phantom scandals. And now he’s been hired by Fox News for his efforts.
And federal filings may provide a hint of who Solomon might help whitewash next. According to documents filed with the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database, Solomon’s 2015 push to include a raft of pro-Azeri material in The Washington Times just so happened to coincide with his meetings with Azeri lobbyists. (The subject of those 2015 meetings: “Azerbaijan public relations.”) Fast-forward to 2019, and as FARA further outlines, Solomon was also in contact with Lanny Davis—a man who, until recently, was working on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
Accused by American authorities of massive bribery and described by the DOJ as an alleged “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime,” Firtash is currently fighting extradition from Austria to the United States. For help, Firtash recently hired conspiratorial pro-Trump lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova – both of whom have joined Rudy Giuliani in working to dig up Ukrainian dirt on Biden. (Firtash also just so happens to publicly loathe Biden.)
There are no FARA filings yet listed on any communications between Toensing, diGenova, and Solomon. But we already know that Solomon was emailing at least some of his stories before publication at The Hill to Toensing and diGenova—as well as to Lev Parnas, the now-arrested bagman and associate of Giuliani, who also happens to be working for Firtash.
So if you see Solomon, whom Politico recently described as an “all[y]” of the two lawyers, beginning to spin Firtash as some kind of wronged businessman—someone unfairly targeted by the Obama administration, perhaps—don’t be surprised. After all, something like that would fit squarely within Solomon’s track record as a kleptocrat’s favorite spin-man, no matter the cost—and no matter the consequences.