Viktor Shokin

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Myths and facts: Fox News spreads misinformation about Viktor Shokin and Joe Biden

On August 26, Fox News aired an interview by network host Brian Kilmeade of former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who 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 the opposite is true, as there was widespread support among the United States and the European Union for firing Shokin for being soft on corruption. Fox News reacted to the interview by spreading anti-Ukraine misinformation, including claiming that Joe Biden fired Shokin to protect his family crime syndicate and the decision was not supported by domestic and international policy.

After Fox trotted out this discredited prosecutor to make claims about Biden’s alleged corruption, the House GOP has ramped up their efforts to prosecute Joe Biden. On September 12, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called for an impeachment inquiry into unspecified allegations of financial wrongdoing by Biden that appear to be related to Shokin’s removal.

  • MYTH: Fox News figures claimed Viktor Shokin had been investigating Burisma, which led then-Vice President Joe Biden to leverage aid for Ukraine to get him fired

    • Fox contributor Miranda Devine claimed that Shokin had been investigating Burisma at the time of his removal and “there must’ve been something for Joe Biden” for him to leverage Ukraine aid. [Fox News, Hannity, 8/28/23]
    • Fox host Jesse Watters suggested Biden wants people to forget that he “got a Ukrainian prosecutor fired. The same one who was looking into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma his son Hunter was on the board of.” He teased that Shokin was “spilling the beans” to Brian Kilmeade. [Fox News, The Five, 8/25/23]
    • Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said Burisma’s CEO got the “influence” he “paid for” from employing Hunter Biden when an investigation into the company “vanish[ed]” after Shokin’s firing. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23]
    • Jarrett called Biden’s decision to fire Shokin a “case of corruption” and “classic quid pro quo pay to play.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23]
    • Jarrett said that firing Shokin was akin to “bribery” and a “quid pro quo.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23]
    • Fox host Sean Hannity declared that “Joe Biden leveraged $1 billion taxpayer dollars to get the prosecutor investigating Burisma and son Hunter — Victor Shokin is his name — and guess what? Got him fired in six hours.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/25/23]
    • Hannity suggested Burisma requested help from Joe Biden to fire Shokin, saying it “looks like a real bribery scandal.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/25/23]
    • Hannity claimed that if Trump “leveraged a billion dollars against his own administration's policies to get a prosecutor fired in Ukraine in six hours so his son would continue to get paid for something he was not qualified for, he would not “get away with that.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/25/23]
    • Fox host Pete Hegseth framed the interview as a piece of mounting evidence that “it was influence peddling from political leaders, through the son, … to fire this prosecutor,” and argued it makes impeaching Biden more urgent. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 8/26/23]
    • Hegseth reiterated his belief that Shokin’s interview proved Biden had been bribed. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 8/26/23]
    • Devine told Kilmeade that “Joe Biden had the $1 billion that was so important to Ukraine” and used it to demand “Shokin’s firing, because Shokin had just been aggressively investigating Burisma.” [Fox News, One Nation with Brian Kilmeade, 8/26/23]
    • Cornell Law School professor Randy Zelin argued that Biden’s actions gave the “appearance of an impropriety because it feels like a quid pro quo” and “perhaps warrants now further investigation” by special counsel David Weiss. [Fox News, Fox News Live, 8/26/23]
    • Hegseth claimed, “In this case, I don’t think the Bidens cared all that much what illegal activity or corrupt activity Burisma would be doing in the country as long as they got a cut of that.” Co-host Campos-Duffy later conflated the situation with the phone call behind Trump’s first impeachment, saying, “He’s using our money and holding it over his head. That sounded really familiar to me.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 8/27/23, 8/27/23]
    • Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) argued that media outlets should report that “the president pressured a foreign leader to fire that country's top prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating his son. And he used a billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to have that bidding done.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/28/23]
    • Fox legal analyst Jonathan Turley cited Joe Biden’s “troubling” financial records as proof of Biden attempting to hide bribery in Ukraine. [Fox News, America Reports, 8/28/23]
    • Fox Business guest Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) claimed that “we have the documents to back” up reports of bribery. [Fox Business, Kudlow, 8/28/23]
    • Hannity pointed to an IRS 1023 form in which the FBI informant referred to Shokin’s firing as a bribe as proof. [Fox News, Hannity, 8/28/23]
    • Jarrett said Shokin was seizing the Burisma CEO’s assets and about to shut down Burisma so the company pressured Hunter to use his father to remove Shokin. [Fox News, Hannity, 8/28/23]
  • FACT: 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, Shokin undermined an attempt by British authorities to freeze $23 million worth of Zlochevsky’s assets. [Bloomberg, 5/7/19]
    • Hunter Biden associate 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 anti corruption 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]
  • MYTH: Biden’s efforts to fire Shokin led directly to Russia’s decision to annex Crimea, and subsequently to invade Ukraine in February 2022

    • Prompted by host Brian Kilmeade, Shokin claimed in an interview about his ousting that “it was because of Joe Biden's actions that Russia was able to claim Crimea without firing a single shot, which of course eventually led to a full-scale war that is currently underway.” [Fox News, One Nation with Brian Kilmeade, 8/26/23]
    • Jesse Watters built off of Shokin’s claims shown in previews of the interview, saying that “the Biden family’s greed and corruption” caused the war in Ukraine. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/25/23]
    • Fox co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy repeated the claim that Shokin’s ousting “was partly responsible for the war in Ukraine,” while fellow co-host Pete Hegseth suggests that former President Barack Obama also played a role in instigating the war. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 8/26/23]
    • In response to the release of former President Donald Trump’s mug shot, Campos-Duffy lamented that it was not President Joe Biden in the picture, again repeating Shokin’s claim that “you guys are in the Ukraine war partially because of these dirty deals that were being made by Joe Biden and Hunter Biden.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 8/26/23]
  • FACT: Shokin’s timeline of events is wrong, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement just before the invasion of Ukraine shows it was primarily driven by longstanding imperial ambitions

    • Shokin’s claim that “because of Joe Biden's actions … Russia was able to claim Crimea” seems to refer to Biden’s efforts to remove Shokin from office, but Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Shokin wasn’t removed until March of 2016. The Ukrainian Parliament “voted by a comfortable margin to remove Mr. Shokin” for failing to bring corruption charges against the country’s elites. [The New York Times, 3/29/16]
    • In a speech just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin “repeatedly denied Ukraine’s right to independent existence – and, at times, that the country exists at all as an independent entity. Instead, he appeared to accept the unity of the two countries as historical fact.” [The Conversation, 2/23/22]
  • MYTH: Fox News claimed the international community, including the United States, supported Viktor Shokin

    Myth #1: Shokin had a positive international/domestic reputation

    • Fox co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that Viktor Shokin had a “great reputation.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23]
    • Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett argued that during Trump’s first impeachment, Democrats “shaded” the context of Shokin’s reputation for political advantage. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23]
    • Fox host Jeanine Pirro claimed that the Obama administration only approved of Shokin’s job. [Fox News, The Five, 8/25/23]
    • On Fox Business, right after correspondent David Spunt noted that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) had previously supported Shokin’s firing, anchor David Asman allowed the senator to claim the White House took his previous statement “out of context” and was “twisting” a letter. [Fox Business, Kudlow, 8/25/23]
    • Kilmeade argued that if Shokin “is a corrupt guy living the life of luxury and he’s that bad, at the very least, he’s hiding it well.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 8/28/23]

    Myth #2: Joe Biden went against international interests or U.S. policy positions by firing Shokin

    • Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett claimed that “the State Department, Treasury, and Justice Department had all agreed that Shokin was doing great things in his anti-corruption crusade, [and] deserved the billion dollars.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/25/23
    • Fox anchor John Roberts and Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) said Biden ignored U.S. policy by claiming Shokin had a bad reputation. [Fox News, America Reports, 8/25/23]
    • Fox host Jesse Watters claimed Biden went “rogue” when he threatened Shokin. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 8/25/23]
    • New York Post columnist and Fox contributor Miranda Devine argued that Biden was acting without the backing of the Obama administration or the rest of the U.S. government. [Fox News, One Nation with Brian Kilmeade, 8/26/23]
  • FACT: 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

    • A briefing memo generated by the State Department for Biden in preparation for his meeting with then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko during a December 7-8, 2015, Ukraine trip, clearly documents that it was U.S. policy to seek Shokin’s removal at that time. The memo was published by right-wing misinformer John Solomon. The memo read in part that “There is wide agreement that anti-corruption must be at the top of this list, and that reforms must include an overhaul of the Prosecutor General’s Office including removal of Prosecutor General Shokin, who is widely regarded as an obstacle to fighting corruption, if not a source of the problem.” [Media Matters, 9/18/23]
    • European nations, the United States, and over 100 members of Ukrainian parliament had pressured the Ukrainian government for months to fire Shokin. In 2016, The New York Times reported: “The United States and other Western nations had for months called for the ousting of Mr. Shokin, who was widely criticized for turning a blind eye to corrupt practices and for 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 2016, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director said that Ukraine needed to make a “substantial new effort” toward anti-corruption reforms to continue receiving aid. Ukraine’s refusal to act on anti-corruption measures, including keeping Shokin, resulted in the IMF threatening to withhold $40 billion in aid. [Financial Times, 2/10/16]
    • In 2015, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt called Shokin “an obstacle” to anti-corruption efforts for failing to cooperate with international investigators. The European Union later applauded his removal, with an EU envoy calling Shokin’s firing “an opportunity to make a fresh start in the prosecutor general's office.” [The Wall Street Journal, 9/22/19; The Irish Times, 3/29/16]
    • 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, 10/3/19]
    • In 2020, while leading the Senate Home Security Committee, Johnson failed to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing in an investigation into Biden’s influence in Ukraine. [The New York Times, 9/23/20]
    • In 2016, at a hearing on Ukrainian reforms, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised concerns about corruption in Ukraine. John E. Herbst, a former ambassador to Ukraine in the George W. Bush administration, testified that there was widespread support for the removal of Shokin and praised Biden. [Senate transcript, 3/15/16]
    • George Kent, the State Department’s expert on Ukraine, testified during Trump’s first impeachment trial that Shokin’s corruption led to his removal. 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. [The Washington Post, 11/19/19]
    • 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. [Media Matters, 11/12/19]
    • Kent also testified that he was unaware of any probe into Burisma at the time of Shokin’s firing. Kent stated that Shokin investigating Burisma “was not something that I ever recall coming up or being discussed.” [Media Matters, 11/12/19]