Withheld Records Could Reveal Whether Administration Officials Directed John Solomon to Peddle Baseless Theories as Pretext for Trump’s Request to Investigate a Political Rival
Pushing a Misinformation Campaign on the American Public Could Violate Anti-Propaganda Laws
Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sued the Trump administration for withholding communications between State Department officials and John Solomon — a Fox News commentator whose columns in The Hill fueled a false Ukrainian corruption narrative involving the Biden family that is a key element of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. Among many grave concerns is the possibility that administration officials spread covert propaganda through Solomon in violation of laws banning the use of government resources for such purposes.
Solomon appears to have collaborated with President Trump’s allies, including his personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, to plant false stories accusing the Biden family and others, including the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, of corrupt acts. Solomon’s “reporting” was then amplified by Fox News Channel, and the President himself, and was the pretext for Trump’s request that the Ukrainian government announce an investigation into the family of one of his political rivals. Impeachment witnesses have since called Solomon’s claims a “false narrative” made to “advance the interests of the President,” or “if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths…”
“The Trump administration is unlawfully withholding records that could expose high-level State Department officials using a right-wing reporter to spark the misinformation campaign at the heart of the Trump impeachment inquiry,” said Democracy Forward Press Secretary Charisma Troiano. “The public deserves to know whether the Trump administration violated anti-propaganda laws.”
The FOIA request seeks records of communications, including communications exchanged over encrypted messaging apps, between Solomon and State Department officials including, among others:
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- William “Bill” Taylor, U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ukraine
- Kurt Volker, former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine
- George Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
Today’s lawsuit was filed after the State Department failed to comply with its statutory obligation to release the requested records.
Democracy Forward is also investigating further efforts by the Trump administration to coordinate with Fox News and similar media outlets in ways that may violate anti-propaganda laws.
The suit was filed November 20, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.