James “Jimmy” Finkelstein, the owner of The Hill newspaper, is not a widely known media executive, but he is one of the era’s most consequential.
Finkelstein resides at the nexus of President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and John Solomon, the now-former executive at The Hill and current Fox News contributor who pushed conspiracy theories about Ukraine into the public conversation.
While Solomon has received significant media attention for his work at The Hill, Finkelstein has stayed out of the headlines, despite having himself played a crucial role in the saga.
Beyond his relationship with Solomon, Trump, and Giuliani, Finkelstein was Solomon’s direct supervisor at The Hill and created the conditions which permitted Solomon to publish his conspiratorial stories without the traditional oversight implemented at news outlets. And he has kept a watchful eye on the newspaper’s coverage to ensure it is not too critical of the President.
As one former veteran employee of The Hill told CNN Business, “Solomon is a symptom of the larger problem of Jimmy Finkelstein.”
This story is based on more than a dozen interviews with current and former staffers at The Hill, in addition to people familiar with other relevant pieces of information.
Those people described a staff still in “revolt” over Solomon’s columns and the way they were handled, including a lack of communication to employees about them even after the articles were thrown into serious question by witnesses in the impeachment inquiry.
After CNN Business reached out to a representative for Finkelstein and The Hill for comment Sunday night, the paper’s editor-in-chief sent staff a note Monday morning notifying employees that editors “are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any [of Solomon’s] pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry.”
Finkelstein and a spokesperson for The Hill declined to comment for this story. Solomon did not return multiple requests for comment. Solomon, however, has previously defended his reporting, including as recently as Sunday when he said during a Fox News appearance he was “in consultation with some lawyers right now” about taking some legal action against some of his critics.
In an email, Giuliani attacked CNN’s reporting and questioned whether it would be a “wise use” of his time to respond to a list of detailed questions CNN posed to him. “Write what you want,” Giuliani wrote, “If it’s fair I’ll be happily surprised?”
“Tell Jimmy I said hello”
Finkelstein has been friends with Trump for decades. In fact, according to a former employee at The Hill, he “boasts that he’s a close friend” of the President. “Getting a phone call from Trump would fill him with joy,” the former employee told CNN Business.
Trump himself has also privately acknowledged his relationship with Finkelstein. During an Oval Office interview with The Hill, according to a person with direct knowledge of the incident, Trump asked one of the outlet’s staffers to send along his greetings to Finkelstein. “Tell Jimmy I said hello,” Trump told the staffer.
Finkelstein’s wife, Pamela Gross, who worked at CNN but left in 2017, is close with Melania Trump. Gross threw a baby shower for Melania Trump, according to a person familiar with the event.
Finkelstein and Gross are also both close with Giuliani, who currently serves as Trump’s personal attorney. Finkelstein often hosts social gatherings at his Hamptons home and, according to a person familiar with the matter, Giuliani and his girlfriend spent multiple weekends at the residence this past summer.
The former New York City mayor has also turned up at events for The Hill in recent years. He attended the launch party for The Hill TV, and was a VIP guest at the outlet’s 2019 White House Correspondents Association Dinner party, according to people familiar with the matter.
A former employee at The Hill recalled that Giuliani was a regular guest on The Hill TV. “Whenever we couldn’t book a guest, John [Solomon] would call Jimmy [Finkelstein], Jimmy would call Rudy, and Rudy would come in or Skype,” the person explained.
So when Giuliani attempted to dig up political dirt on Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, a natural place for him to disseminate the information was The Hill. And the natural person at The Hill to go to was Solomon, who had been personally hired by Finkelstein.
Giuliani told The New York Times that he shared his Ukraine information with Solomon, though it’s unclear how much of it if any Solomon used. Other media reports have shed additional light on how closely the two collaborated. One report from The Daily Beast revealed that Giuliani had even obtained a full draft of an unpublished story by Solomon before publication. Giuliani told The Daily Beast the copy was not provided by Solomon, but he wouldn’t say how he obtained it.
Solomon’s columns, which were heavily promoted on Fox and in right-wing media, have helped shape public perception of Biden’s work in Ukraine, especially among Trump supporters.
The columns are now at the center of the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry into Trump.
The reporting helped trigger the chain of events that led to Trump asking the recently-elected Ukrainian president to probe Biden. And multiple witnesses have referenced the reporting in their testimonies before Congress, disputing the veracity of Solomon’s columns.
One, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, said of one of Solomon’s stories, “I think all the key elements were false.” Pressed further on the matter by Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, Vindman said, “I haven’t looked at the article in quite some time, but you know, his grammar might have been right.”
“Jimmy is the one who hired John Solomon”
None of it would have been possible without Finkelstein, who hired Solomon in July 2017 as an executive vice president at The Hill and initially charged him with leading the newspaper’s video division.
“Jimmy is the one who hired John Solomon,” a former employee told CNN. “The editors didn’t want him there.”
A person close to Finkelstein noted that as owner, Finkelstein personally hires members of The Hill’s senior management.
Almost immediately after Solomon’s hiring, staffers at The Hill newspaper grew worried about his work.
“I remember almost immediately thinking, ‘Why is he writing?’” the former veteran employee told CNN, noting that Solomon already had earned a reputation for conspiratorial work when he reported on things like the “deep state” for Circa, a now-defunct conservative news website.
Eventually, when his stories started getting more attention, employees inside The Hill’s news division protested to newsroom leaders.
But Solomon reported directly to Finkelstein, allowing him to bypass the outlet’s normal editorial process.
“It made for an awkward power dynamic in the newsroom,” one employee explained to CNN. “You had staff on the news side objecting to Solomon’s coverage, but [the newsroom leaders] were a bit powerless.”
Solomon’s work was eventually moved to the opinion section. Finkelstein, however, remained a steadfast supporter of Solomon’s.
Current and former employees at The Hill told CNN that Finkelstein keeps close tabs on the outlet’s coverage, and reaches out to editors if he thinks it portrays Trump in too harsh a light.
One former employee explained that Finkelstein “monitored” The Hill’s coverage “to make sure it’s not too anti-Trump.” Another former employee said he “definitely intervenes in a way that an owner never should.”
“There was always this understanding in the newsroom that Jimmy was friendly with Trump and people needed to be aware of it,” said the second former employee.
That said, some of the outlet’s staffers explained that Finkelstein was less concerned with Trump and more concerned with preserving The Hill’s reputation as a non-partisan news organization. As a result, he prefers coverage that isn’t sharp around the edges.
A person close to Finkelstein also said he reaches out when he believes anyone, of any political stripe, isn’t represented fairly in a story.
“The staff is in revolt right now”
Solomon left The Hill in September, writing in a memo to staff that he was starting his own venture.
The damage his work caused to The Hill’s reputation, however, still remains. But management has mostly declined to communicate directly with staff.
Prior to Monday, there had been no outreach from management about what The Hill was going to do in regards to Solomon’s reporting, which has come under increased scrutiny with witnesses in the impeachment probe throwing cold water on it.
“No internal email, no internal meeting,” one employee told CNN Business. “Just nothing communicated from above.”
“The staff is in revolt right now,” the employee added. “People are very upset. The staff is trying to figure out what to do. What is happening right now are dozens of conversations over text messages, over the phone, and in person about what the staff can do.”
The employee said Sunday that staffers were throwing around various ideas about what to do. One of the ideas was to write a letter to Finkelstein disavowing the Solomon pieces as a newsroom. The other idea mulled by staff was writing a staff op-ed in The Washington Post.
After CNN Business reached out to a representative for The Hill for comment, The Hill Editor-In-Chief Bob Cusack announced in a Monday morning email to staffers that Solomon’s work was under review.
“As you are aware, John Solomon left The Hill earlier in the fall, but in light of recent congressional testimony and related events, we wanted to apprise you of the steps we are taking regarding John Solomon’s opinion columns which were referenced in the impeachment inquiry,” Cusack wrote.
“Because of our dedication to accurate non-partisan reporting and standards, we are reviewing, updating, annotating with any denials of witnesses, and when appropriate, correcting any opinion pieces referenced during the ongoing congressional inquiry,” Cusack added.
But employees who spoke to CNN Business said the email had done little to quell internal outrage, and felt like too little too late. The employees said that they were pondering their next moves.