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Opinion Sources: The Hill’s John Solomon offered money to Bill Clinton for an interview series

Former president Bill Clinton at Georgetown University in November. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

John Solomon, the executive vice president of digital video at The Hill, approached the office of former president Bill Clinton in August with a proposal to conduct paid interviews as part of a new video series for the publication, according to three informed sources. Clinton’s office declined to participate.

Securing the former president’s cooperation appears to have been among Solomon’s first ideas when he arrived at The Hill in July. Prior to that position, he’d worked as the chief operating officer at Circa, the general news website of the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group. At other stops along his peripatetic career path, Solomon has sought to play a dual role of investigative reporter-cum-digital evangelist, not always with glimmering results.

The particulars of Solomon’s pitch to Team Clinton, say the sources, plotted an expansive tour through contemporary American politics. The former president would sit with an interviewer — one agreed upon by both parties — and opine on the topics of the day, including the economy, foreign policy, the environment and more. Six hours of interviews would be spread out over a 12-week series.

A model for the series, in Solomon’s view, was the David Frost-Richard Nixon interviews from 1977. Those sessions broke all sorts of news, in large part because the disgraced Nixon apologized to the American people for his misdeeds. They also served as a model for Solomon & Co. for another reason: Nixon was paid $600,000, plus a share of the profits for his troubles. Per The Hill’s proposal, Clinton would receive a portion of the proceeds, a sum that would amount to “big money,” said one source, referring to The Hill’s offer. Another source said The Hill spoke of compensation in the seven-figure range.

According to a source, The Hill was open to making the payments either directly to Clinton or to the Clinton Global Initiative, a project of the Clinton Foundation. A review of The Hill’s proposal confirmed that account. Neither Solomon nor James A. Finkelstein, the chairman of The Hill, responded to multiple requests for comment.

Standards at mainstream media outlets commonly prohibit payments to interview subjects. Cash, after all, vests the proceedings with distorting pressures: The subject may feel compelled to juice the interview with truth-stretching remarks, to better justify his earnings. And a financial bond between news organization and interviewee could easily give the appearance of influencing future coverage.

Just months after floating the interview series, Solomon’s byline appeared on stories for The Hill attempting to revive the Uranium One controversy. As reported by the New York Times in 2015, a Russian energy concern, Rosatom, sought to gain control of a Canadian mining company — eventually named Uranium One — that had assets in the United States, triggering a requirement for government approval of the takeover. The State Department, under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, signed off on the sale, as did a number of other U.S. government agencies. The Canadian company’s owners also gave money to the Clinton Foundation, which raised pay-for-play concerns.

The whole line of inquiry was napping in the news archives until Oct. 17, when Solomon and Alison Spann wrote a story attempting to knit Uranium One into a wide-ranging conspiracy that we won’t attempt to abridge here. Suffice to say the story mixed old news with innuendo to maximum effect: Two House panels vowed to collaborate on an inquiry into the 2010 Uranium One approval.

Since joining The Hill, Solomon has participated in numerous segments on the Fox News program “Hannity,” frequently blasting the Clintons. On Jan. 4, he wrote a piece under the headline, “FBI launches new Clinton Foundation investigation.” That night, Fox News host Sean Hannity feasted on the story: “Our top story tonight — Fox News alert — The Hill’s John Solomon out with a huge development as it relates to the FBI that is now launching a new investigation into the Clinton Foundation and whether the foundation engaged in any pay-to-play or other illegal activities while Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state.”

Solomon commented, “I think they are really at that first stage of just talking to witnesses. But if we get to a grand jury and panel on either case, email or the foundation, I think you know that there is some serious business ahead.” Just not the kind of business Solomon had proposed.

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