Ukraine’s interior ministry launched an investigation Thursday into claims former United States Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was placed under surveillance in the country by people linked to President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
The probe by Ukraine came after House Democrats on Tuesday released a trove of documents, including phone records, that appeared to indicate that Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, discussed tracking Yovanovitch in March 2019. Parnas is a central figure in the Trump impeachment investigation.
In a statement, Ukraine’s interior ministry said it does not want to interfere in U.S. domestic affairs, but it can’t ignore potentially illegal activities and it needs to protect the rights and safety of foreign diplomats deployed on its soil. It said its investigation intends to determine whether “there actually was a violation” or “just bravado and fake information during informal conversation between two U.S. citizens.”
The text messages published by House Democrats showed Parnas was in contact with Robert Hyde, a pro-Trump congressional candidate in Connecticut who claimed to have Yovanovitch under surveillance. In March, Parnas sent Hyde articles critical of Yovanovitch. Hyde responded, “Wow. can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this b****.”
Hyde also sent Parnas a series of messages suggesting he had hired people in Ukraine to surveil the ambassador and was getting updates about her whereabouts and activities. “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off,” Hyde wrote in one message. In another: “They will let me know when she’s on the move.”
Ukraine-born Parnas worked with Giuliani to execute Trump’s alleged Ukraine pressure campaign, which Trump’s critics allege was aimed at getting dirt on his political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Trump denies the allegations.
Parnas said in a Wednesday TV interview that “Trump knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine during the White House’s alleged pressure campaign, but Stephanie Grisham, White House press secretary, pushed back Thursday in a statement, saying that the “allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison. The facts haven’t changed – the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats, has been a sham from the start.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the evidence revealed in the phone records “profoundly alarming.”
In a letter he sent Wednesday night to Under Secretary of State Brian Bulatao, Engel wrote, “Mr. Hyde claimed in one message to have ‘a person inside,’ presumably in the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, who is ‘willing to help if we/you would like a price.’ The strong implication from these messages is that someone with detailed knowledge of the Ambassador’s whereabouts and security protocols was providing that information in real time to Mr. Hyde and Mr. Parnas. I cannot overstate the profound security risk that this poses to the U.S. mission and our interests in Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s interior ministry also said it was probing a suspected cyberattack by Russian military hackers on the energy company Burisma, which is at the center of the impeachment investigation because of its ties to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
Contributing: David Jackson