Rep. Devin Nunes has denounced “fake news” and “preposterous reporting” as part of a vicious broadside against journalism in the impeachment hearings. But he’s defended two specific journalists by name.
Those journalists — New York Times reporter Ken Vogel and Fox News personality John Solomon — have become central to understanding the defense of President Donald Trump in impeachment proceedings.
Nunes and his allies in the House chambers have used their work to question witnesses and put meat on the bones of a counter-narrative about the real scandals: Ukrainian corruption and Ukrainian influence in the 2016 election. It’s spurred spinoff conspiracy theories by pro-Trump media and drawn growing criticism from other journalists.
“The concerted campaign by the media to discredit and disown one of their own colleagues is shocking,” Nunes said in Solomon’s defense Tuesday. He put Vogel in the same category.
It was a canny trick to tie together two reporters with varying degrees of credibility.
Solomon’s columns on Ukraine and the Biden family are under review by his former employer, The Hill, while some of his old colleagues have openly disavowed him. Vogel, an ex-Politico staffer who has written extensively about both topics, adds a more mainstream sheen to it all.
Their stories were largely lost in a news cycle dominated by Trump’s outrage du jour until impeachment proceedings began in earnest in September. But the president’s defenders have weaponized them to suggest that Joe Biden acted corruptly as vice president and Ukraine — opposite of Russia — meddled in the 2016 election on Hillary Clinton’s behalf.
“Was there any discussion at the embassy that there’s these indications of some Ukrainians trying to at least advocate against then-candidate Trump?” Republican Counsel Steve Castor asked ex-Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Friday, citing Vogel’s reporting. She replied no.
Vogel’s deeply reported, at times convoluted piece, published in Politico in Jan. 2017, details attempts to undercut Trump’s campaign by Ukrainian officials and an American political consultant who at various points worked with the DNC. It explicitly doesn’t equate the efforts with the Kremlin. But pro-Trump media have cherry picked details and twisted facts to fit a sinister narrative of Democratic corruption.
“Ukrainian government worked with Hillary Clinton and the DNC to try and sabotage the Trump campaign in 2016,” right-wing talk host Mark Levin incorrectly quipped in re-sharing the piece on Facebook on Oct. 18. Fox News primetime host Sean Hannity and various members of the Trump family have similarly pushed this narrative.
Trump allies have also pointed to a May 2019 article by Vogel in The New York Times. The piece is framed around the appearance of conflicts of interest between Vice President Biden’s role in Ukraine and his son’s business dealings with the energy company Burisma. Attempts by Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies to push the country to investigate — explosive details that led to the impeachment inquiry — were buried lower in the piece.
Representatives from Politico and The New York Times have defended their respective reports in the face of criticisms from Democrats, including the Biden campaign. Vogel couldn’t be reached by VICE News before publication Wednesday, but he told The Washington Post last week, “Both stories were prescient, revealing information that has come to play a central role in the impeachment saga.” This weekend, however, the Times added a correction to its story suggesting its initial timeline of events weren’t as untoward as they were initially portrayed.
Solomon’s pieces for The Hill have come under even greater scrutiny. A veteran of The Associated Press and other mainstream outlets, he has more recently veered deep into the Fox News universe.
His columns for The Hill, written under the odd descriptor of “investigative columnist,” pushed unproven allegations of Deep State-corruption among American diplomats in Ukraine. And they helped Giuliani and other Trump defenders to advance unfounded allegations about Biden wielding his official influence on his son’s behalf.
It’s been catnip for Fox News and well-trafficked right-wing conspiracy sites including The Gateway Pundit.
No mainstream journalists have been able to confirm those reports. In the face of mounting pushback on Monday, The Hill Editor Bob Cusack told his staff that the publication would review Solomon’s work and append notes and corrections when needed. Cusack did not respond to VICE News’ request for additional comment.
Solomon has continued publishing columns at a DIY blog about how anti-Trump bureaucrats are working in concert with Democrats and mainstream media to discredit his reporting. He tweeted Monday that he welcomed The Hill’s fact-checking.
“I believe it won’t be hard for The Hill to review these since all my source documents and original interviews are linked for all to see,” he said on Twitter. “Plus witnesses have affirmed much of what I wrote.”
It’s thrust the fairly uncontroversial newspaper into the center of a political maelstrom. Current and former staffers at The Hill have spoken out about the damage done to its newsroom’s credibility. And at least two House Democrats have lashed out at at other reporters from the publication in recent days, citing Solomon’s columns in refusing to grant interviews.
“Solomon has been a constant pain in everybody's ass,” one current staffer told VICE News. “There's a reason no one else has matched his reporting.”
Cover: Ranking member Devin Nunes (R-CA) listens to Ambassador Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a former official at the National Security Council, as they testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill November 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin - Pool/Getty Images)