On August 25, Fox News previewed an interview of former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin by network host Brian Kilmeade that is set to air in full on August 26. In the preview segment, Shokin accused President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden of “corruption” and “being bribed” to push for the prosecutor’s removal from office in 2016.
In fact, there was widespread agreement at the time across the political spectrum in the United States and the European Union that Shokin should be fired for being soft on corruption, including State Department allegations that Shokin himself was corrupt. Additionally, at the time of his removal, Shokin wasn’t actively investigating Hunter Biden or Burisma, an energy company that had hired Hunter Biden to serve on its board of directors. Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer recently testified that it would have been better for Burisma if the Ukrainian government had kept Shokin because he was unlikely to move against the company.
Shokin’s claims are part of a longstanding smear campaign led by Rudy Giuliani on behalf of former President Donald Trump, which ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment. Fox News knew Shokin’s claims were baseless then and continues to know it now, but the network is airing Shokin’s baseless allegations regardless.
Pushing for Shokin to be fired was the policy of not only the United States, where it was supported by leading Republicans, but also the international community
- European nations, the United States, and over 100 members of Ukrainian parliament had pressured the Ukrainian government for months to fire Shokin. The international community concluded that Shokin was “turning a blind eye to corrupt practices” and “defending the interests of a venal and entrenched elite.” [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2/11/16; The New York Times, 3/29/16]
- In 2015, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt called Shokin “an obstacle” to anti-corruption efforts. Ukraine’s refusal to act on anti-corruption measures, including keeping Shokin, resulted in the International Monetary Fund threatening to withhold $40 billion in aid. The European Union applauded his removal. [The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/19]
- Protests in Ukraine demanded Shokin’s removal after he launched an investigation into an anti-corruption watchdog group and had fired various anti-corruption prosecutors. The group, Anti-Corruption Action Center, had publicly criticized Shokin. [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3/28/16; Kyiv Post, 3/25/16]
- In 2016, Republican Sens. Rob Portman, Mark Kirk and Ron Johnson and Democratic colleagues addressed a letter to then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, calling for him to “press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General’s office and judiciary.” The bipartisan letter was also signed by five Senate Democrats, underlining that removing Shokin was the consensus view in Washington, D.C. — not a pet project of the Biden family. [CNN, 10/3/2019]
- Johnson would later lead a committee that investigated Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma and failed to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing. The New York Times noted, “In fact, investigators heard witness testimony that rebutted those charges,” and Johnson acknowledged there were no “massive smoking guns” in the report. [The New York Times, 9/23/20]
- George Kent, the State Department’s expert on Ukraine, testified during Trump’s first impeachment trial that Shokin’s corruption led to his removal. Shokin was fired over corruption allegations and was not actively investigating Burisma when he was removed. The Washington Post reported in 2019 that Kent confirmed that Joe Biden called for the removal of “a corrupt prosecutor general … who had undermined a system of criminal investigation” into Ukrainian corruption cases, and “destroyed the entire ecosystem that we were trying to create.” Kent, who was the No. 2 official in the embassy at the time, explained that Biden was following the official U.S. government position that Shokin must be removed because he was “an impediment to the reform of the prosecutorial system, and he had directly undermined in repeated fashion U.S. efforts and U. S. assistance programs.” In fact, Kent testified that the idea to fire Shokin originated in the State Department before being pitched to others, including then-Vice President Biden. [The Washington Post, 11/19/19; Media Matters, 11/12/19]
At the time of his removal, Shokin was not actively investigating Burisma, and Hunter Biden was never the subject of an investigation into the company
- Former Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko said in May 2019 that the investigation into Burisma had been “shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.” Shokin had stalled investigations into Burisma and its co-founder Mykola Zlochevsky. In 2014, he undermined an attempt by British authorities to freeze $23 million worth of Zlochevsky’s assets. [Bloomberg, 5/7/19]
- Devon Archer testified that he was not aware of any Shokin-led investigation into Burisma. He also testified that he had no reason to believe that then-Vice President Biden called for Shokin’s removal “was driven by anything other than the U.S. Government’s anticorruption policy in Ukraine,” and confirmed that firing Shokin “was bad for Burisma because he was under control.” [Media Matters, 8/3/23]
- Investigations involving Burisma targeted Zlochevsky, who had been accused of “abuse of power, illegal enrichment and money laundering,” rather than the company itself. Shokin had allegedly “dragged his feet” on these investigations, and Hunter Biden, as a board member, was not a target. [The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/19]
Fox News knew its sourcing on the Ukraine conspiracy theory was unreliable
- Conservative writer John Solomon was a key distributor of Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories regarding Shokin’s firing. From March 20, 2019 — when Solomon published his first story on the Ukraine conspiracy theory — through October 2, 2019, Solomon appeared on Fox News or Fox Business at least 72 times, including 51 appearances on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show [Media Matters, 10/17/19]
- During that period, Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy produced an internal “research briefing book” that “openly question[ed] Fox News contributor John Solomon’s credibility, accusing him of playing an ‘indispensable role’ in a Ukrainian ‘disinformation campaign,’” according to The Daily Beast. Murphy’s research came from what was known as Fox’s “Brain Room,” which the network later disbanded, and described Solomon as having “played an indispensable role in the collection and domestic publication of elements of this disinformation campaign.” [The Daily Beast, 2/6/20]
- Murphy’s research book also advised that Giuliani had a “high susceptibility to disinformation” that was being fed to him by unreliable Ukrainian sources. [The Daily Beast, 2/6/20]
- Fox News continues to accuse Joe Biden of taking bribes regarding Shokin’s firing even when confronted with contradictory evidence. On August 9, a panel discussion on The Five descended into chaos after co-host Jessica Tarlov attempted to get her co-panelists to acknowledge recent testimony from Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer. Archer “was asked, if someone concluded … that Joe Biden was bribed, would you disagree with that? ‘Yeah, I would.’ Devon Archer said that,” Tarlov said to the panel. [Fox News, The Five, 8/9/23]
Giuliani, a Trump lawyer who would later be arrested for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was the lynchpin to the entire scheme
- Solomon’s reporting laid the groundwork for Giuliani’s investigations in Ukraine, which ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment. Some of Solomon’s key sources were “disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko and the allies of Dmytro Firtash, an indicted Ukrainian oligarch and accused high-level Russian mafia associate,” who “have been seen as forces driving Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine to dig up dirt on Trump’s political enemies.” [Media Matters, 10/17/19; The Daily Beast, 2/6/20]
- Giuliani ultimately sent his findings to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, complete with “with unproven allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden” with the goal of undermining a future Biden presidential run. Giuliani used his documents “to bolster unproven allegations that Biden pressured Ukraine in order to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who has been involved with a business interest there, and that the Obama administration was using Ukraine to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.” [NBC News, 10/3/19]
- After Trump’s phone call attempting to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was revealed, Giuliani engaged in a press strategy to redirect the focus back to the Bidens. Some mainstream outlets took the bait, with headlines like “Scrutiny over Trump’s Ukraine scandal may also complicate Biden’s campaign” and “Why Trump’s Ukraine scandal could backfire on Biden.” [Media Matters, 9/23/19]
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.