Fox News host Sean Hannity was set to play an early role in the response to President Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
TPM obtained text messages between Lev Parnas and a Fox News producer and booker as they attempted to arrange an interview between Hannity and Viktor Shokin, a disgraced Ukrainian prosecutor with an axe to grind against Joe Biden.
The exchange occurred in early October, days before Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were intercepted by FBI agents at Washington-Dulles International Airport as they boarded a flight on a one-way ticket to Vienna.
As CNN reported last year, the pair were headed to Vienna for the interview between Shokin and Hannity.
Texts obtained by TPM show that two Fox News employees — booker Alyssa Moni and executive producer Tiffany Fazio — reached out to Parnas on Oct. 6 asking about when to book a studio for Shokin in Vienna.
Shokin is a central figure in the debunked allegations into which President Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations.
As general prosecutor of Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, Shokin was frequently criticized for alleged corruption and for being ineffectual, failing to bring any grand corruption cases to court or to make progress in investigating the murder of more than 100 protestors during the country’s 2014 revolution.
Among the companies that Shokin was criticized for failing to investigate was Burisma, a gas company owned by a former government official accused of embezzlement.
Under pressure from the international community and others, including Vice President Joe Biden, Shokin was fired in March 2016.
Shokin has gone on to present a different narrative, in which he was fired not for lack of action, but rather because he was aggressively investigating Burisma. The company had added Biden’s son Hunter to its board in 2014, along with other people perceived to have political influence, including a former Polish president and a Bush administration counterterrorism official.
Shokin has claimed that Biden had him fired to protect his son from the investigation. Parnas told TPM in an interview with his attorney Joseph A. Bondy that Shokin was set to make the same claims to Hannity in the Oct. 10 interview.
There’s no evidence to support Shokin’s allegations. But Giuliani and allies of his client President Trump have seized on the narrative as a justification for why Ukraine should open an investigation into a political opponent of the President’s. Giuliani pressured two presidents of Ukraine — Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky — to do so.
Moni, the Hannity booker, wrote to Parnas that the show needed “to book a translator — we want to get the best person. Should it be a Ukrainian or Russian speaker? John Solomon suggested Russian.”
Parnas later told the pair that Oct. 10 would be the best day for Shokin to appear at the Vienna studio, noting that he was “still recovering.”
But the interview never took place. Parnas and Fruman were arrested on the eve of the planned interview on criminal campaign finance charges.
Giuliani asked Parnas and Fruman for at least one piece of information in advance of the interview. On the day that the pair were arrested, they had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel in D.C.
A Giuliani assistant — Christianne Allen — asked Parnas that day for a copy of “the letter [Rep. Pete] Sessions (R-TX) wrote to the President to remove Yovanovitch.”
When CNN first reported the planned interview in October, Hannity said through a spokesperson that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the First Amendment seriously.”
Hannity confirmed the attempt to interview Shokin in a statement to TPM.
“My staff did make attempts independently to interview Prosecutor Shokin who was fired after Joe Biden leveraged $1 billion taxpayer dollars and demanded he be fired, just like ABC and the Washington Post interviewed him,” Hannity told TPM.
Though the interview with Shokin never took place, the disgraced prosecutor later spoke with Giuliani for a One America News series about the allegations. As the House conducted its impeachment inquiry, Giuliani traveled to Kyiv for the series — a feat he was unable to accomplish while the pressure campaign was occurring somewhat behind closed doors.
“I am extremely proud of my team for their hard work and dedication,” Hannity added. “I am also extremely proud of the fact that while the media mob was lying daily about alleged Trump and Russian collusion, my team was busy breaking news daily and exposing FISA abuse and the Clinton bought and paid for the dirty Russian dossier. As the recent IG report confirmed, our reporting was completely accurate, and the media mob was wrong again.”