Long before they entered a symbiotic relationship to pick apart the Bidens’ alleged ties to Ukrainian corruption, John Solomon and Rudy Giuliani had a completely different dynamic: an investigative reporter focused on uncovering Giuliani’s potential corruption, chasing after a presidential candidate whose campaign was unhappy at his muckraking in Rudy-world.
As the national investigative correspondent for the Washington Post, where he was hired in early 2007, Solomon’s byline graced the top of multiple critical stories about Giuliani, who was then pursuing a presidential bid on the strength of his reputation as a crime-fighting mayor who soothed a grieving New York City after the 9/11 attacks.
Solomon’s stories, often co-written with other Post reporters and some of which appeared on the front page, bolstered his own career as an investigative journalist. But they also caused considerable damage to Giuliani’s presidential ambitions, along with other reporting from The New York Times.
Several of Solomon’s stories detailed the close relationship between the campaign and his firm Giuliani Partners, which was billed for campaign services such as security and which possibly violated campaign finance laws, and where he continued to work despite his pledge to leave the firm during the campaign.
Other reports focused on Giuliani’s relationship with Bernard Kerik, the former commissioner of the NYPD, whom he’d recommended for the top job at the Department of Homeland Security only to see the nomination collapse amid concerns that Kerik had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper and nanny. (He has claimed that he was unaware of her immigration status.)
Solomon reported in April 2007 that Giuliani was well aware of a host of issues with Kerik before he suggested his former police chief to George W. Bush: “questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption, [and a] friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime,” who “told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.”
At the time, Giuliani’s associates often found themselves blindsided. “We wondered where he was getting all this stuff,” a person who worked with Giuliani for a long time told POLITICO.
The intensity of Solomon’s reporting back then has stuck in the minds of Giuliani’s old allies — making his recent heel-turn as a fellow traveler with Giuliani in the current Ukraine scandal “very odd,” said this person. It was Solomon who, as a reporter and opinion journalist at The Hill, wrote many of the stories that promoted Giuliani’s narrative of a Joe and Hunter Biden running amok in Kyiv in league with the previous Ukrainian government.
It’s a narrative that became an obsession of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, landing him in a congressional probe that has led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives and placed his re-election in doubt.
Those stories are now under review by The Hill, according to executive editor Bob Cusack, amid questions about their accuracy and an uproar among the publication’s reporting staff. As for Solomon, he stands by his articles, but has left The Hill to start his own media company and continues as a contributor to Fox News.
Solomon’s 2007-vintage reporting has not undergone any similar scrutiny — nor has it been disputed — but Giuliani associates sometimes found it maddeningly granular. One story, for instance, hit the former mayor and his firm for hiring Pasquale D’Amuro, a former top FBI official, focusing on the fact that D’Amuro had once asked a subordinate to retrieve building remains from the post-9/11 wreckage of the Twin Towers as relics.
A spokesperson for Giuliani, Christianné Allen, slammed Solomon’s old Washington Post stories that were critical of her current boss. “Mayor Giuliani had very little involvement in Solomon’s stories in 2007 and 2008 and has in the past stated they were poorly sourced, exceedingly exaggerated, and had little impact on his campaign,” she said. Solomon didn’t respond to an email asking him to respond to that statement.
Peter Baker, the current chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, worked on at least one of those stories with Solomon when they were both at the Post. “Everything I worked on with him that we published was good reporting, and accurate and fair and all that good stuff,” he told POLITICO.
Those who interacted with Solomon during the 2008 Republican primary considered him “relentless,” “annoying” and a “dog with a bone” – a typical set of virtues for an investigative reporter.
“He was interested in telling a side that maybe other reporters weren’t,” said a former senior RNC operative in the 2000s who dealt with Solomon.
“He wasn’t afraid to call you out on your BS if even the slightest detail was off,” recalled a friend of Giuliani’s who worked on the campaign.
One person who worked with Solomon at the Post said they liked Solomon, but found him hard to work with and said that his proposed stories often didn’t pan out. “You just had to say, ‘John, what the fuck? You don’t have this thing.’ And he would say ‘OK, alright, I’ll do something else.’”
Twelve years later and in the swirl of Trump’s impeachment, Giuliani and Solomon seem to have become almost co-dependent as both men seek to investigate Hunter Biden’s stint on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company facing corruption allegations in Kyiv. The Bidens have denied any wrongdoing, and other reporters have been unable to substantiate the allegations.
As Giuliani himself claimed to Glenn Beck in November, he and Solomon had joined forces to turn the Ukraine narrative into a nationwide event. “I said to John, I think you should take the lead and we should put this all in the newspapers because if I go to the Justice Department now, they’re going to say Trump is forcing the Justice Department to do it. Let’s put the darn thing out, and let’s see if any of these crooked media people will follow up on a proven case of bribery.” Solomon’s own lawyers are Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova, who also represent Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who has been fighting his extradition to the United States.
In a different interview, Giuliani boasted that he sling-shot Solomon’s Ukraine reporting into the public eye. “I said, ‘John, let’s make this as prominent as possible,’” Giuliani recently told The New Yorker. “‘I’ll go on TV. You go on TV. You do columns.’” He then included Solomon’s columns on Ukraine in a dossier to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who handed them over to the department’s inspector general.
Solomon himself contributed to the joint effort by sharing unpublished drafts of his columns with Toensing, diGenova, and Ukrainian-American businessman and Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, according to the New York Times. Several witnesses, in sworn congressional testimony during the House’s impeachment inquiry, said that critical reporting on former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — including Solomon’s — was inaccurate and amounted to an effort to smear a well-regarded, veteran diplomat.
The irony of how Solomon and Giuliani’s relationship has changed appears to elude both men.
Giuliani, in an email, said he didn’t remember Solomon from the 2008 campaign and his stories “had little real impact on my campaign, which failed for other reasons.”
And Solomon, for his part, said in a phone interview that the narrative that he worked with Giuliani on his Ukraine stories was wrong and that he never used any Ukraine information from Giuliani until a single column in September about how some State Department officials had encouraged and helped connect Giuliani to an adviser for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Instead, Solomon said, he largely proceeded on his own after Giuliani had told him in March that he wasn’t ready to share any findings with him. But he said that Giuliani did give him two things that he couldn’t verify so he never put them into his published work.
“One was an allegation of a $900,000 payment to the Bidens that wasn’t in the documents that I had, and I’ve never been able to corroborate that. And the second piece of information that he had about the DNC servers which was contradictory or conflicted with the information that I had from the U.S. intelligence community,” Solomon said.
Solomon also denied that he’d gone from Giuliani foe to Giuliani ally. “You have a false narrative of the idea that suddenly I went from writing stories that were tough on Rudy to suddenly taking stuff from Rudy and just putting it out there or coordinating my journalism with him,” he said. “That’s not what happened.”
Giuliani would go on to thrive after his presidential bid collapsed in January 2008, making millions of dollars through his legal work and his international consulting firm. And Solomon, too, has prospered as a prominent conservative journalist, serial media entrepreneur and talking head.But Kerik pleaded guilty to eight charges of tax evasion and lying to White House officials, serving slightly over three years in federal prison and several months under house arrest probation as a result. He now works as a consultant on crisis management and criminal justice issues and in 2016 published an autobiography titled “From Jailer to Jailed: My Journey from Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate #84888-054.”
Solomon’s reporting on Kerik and Giuliani still stands — and neither he nor his frequent co-author Matthew Mosk would comment on it specifically — but the Giuliani team still complains that aspects of it were based on unreliable sources.
The Giuliani campaign eventually came up with a strategy to throw Solomon off their tail, feeding him information on rival candidates in an attempt to make him go away. “He still wrote tough stories [about Rudy], but it distracted him a little,” said the friend of Giuliani. “Any day that he was focused on other candidates and not mine were a win.”
In early 2008, Solomon left the Post to become editor-in-chief of the conservative Washington Times, but resigned in late 2009. That was followed by a short stint as executive editor of the Center for Public Integrity starting in November 2010, where his ambitions to turn it into a quick-hit daily investigative news site never fully materialized. He also briefly worked for Newsweek and the Daily Beast in 2011 and then was hired as chief creative officer of Circa News, a now-defunct media site aimed at millennials that began tilting noticeably rightward after its purchase by Sinclair Broadcasting Network in 2015.
Solomon rejects the conservative label. “There is no difference in how I reported stories during my career at the AP, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Newsweek or The Hill,” he told POLITICO. “I always focus on facts.”
But several journalists and editors who worked with Solomon lament his career shift.
Sandy Johnson, the former Washington bureau chief of the AP who helped edit Solomon’s investigative stories when he was at the wire service’s D.C. bureau in the 1990s and early 2000s, said, “It’s just heartbreaking to see what’s going on with him.”
Leonard Downie, who was executive editor of the Post when Solomon was there, told POLITICO, “Based on his work at the Post, I’m surprised by his recent work.”
Another person who worked with Solomon at the Post said that his former colleague “just embraced the right and the right embraced him.”
One former target of Solomon’s reporting now professes to be an admirer, however: Bernie Kerik.
“I’m a big fan of what he’s doing,” Kerik said in an interview, claiming to have read every single Ukraine story and column Solomon has written. “I just strongly believe that nobody is focused on the crimes that have been committed by the Bidens.”
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