Text messages appear to suggest a Trump donor was monitoring movements of the former US ambassador to Ukraine
Democrats vow to investigate texts as they sent articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trump’s trial
A top Democrat in Congress vowed to investigate “profoundly alarming” messages suggesting that the former US ambassador to Ukraine was subject to surveillance before President Donald Trump fired her in May.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said the messages, which were released this week as part of the impeachment case against Trump, suggested former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch faced security risks when Trump allies tried to discredit her before she was fired.
“This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Engel said.
Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also issued a statement demanding a briefing.
The documents included encrypted messages between Florida businessman Lev Parnas and Robert F. Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut and ardent supporter of Trump, disparaging the respected career diplomat and apparently providing updates on her movements in Kiev.
In one, Hyde wrote: “They are moving her tomorrow”. In another, he said he had associates in Ukraine who could help keep track of Yovanovitch. “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” he said.
In another Hyde wrote: “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.” He said she was under heavy security and “we have a person inside.”
Hyde at one point texted Parnas that ‘’they are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money … is what I was told.”
Parnas texted back: “lol.”
Hyde denied wrongdoing, saying on Twitter he had never been in Kiev.
“For them to take some texts my buddy’s and I wrote back to some dweeb we were playing with that we met a few times while we had a few drinks is definitely laughable,” he wrote.
The chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party said on Twitter on Wednesday that he had asked Hyde to end his bid for Congress.
In an interview with MSNBC, Parnas said he did not believe Hyde posed a threat to Yovanovitch.
“I didn’t believe Mr Hyde,” Parnas said.
Lawrence Robbins, an lawyer for Yovanovitch, called for an investigation into the messages.
“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing. We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”
House Democrats say the messages add to the evidence they will present to the Senate in an impeachment trial due to start in earnest next week, after the House voted on Wednesday to send the impeachment charges over to the Senate.
Trump is charged with abusing his power and obstructing Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Democratic vice-president Joe Biden, a political rival. Trump denies wrongdoing.
During the impeachment investigation last fall, Yovanovitch testified that she had received a late night call from Washington warning her that she needed to return to the United States urgently and that there were concerns about her safety.
The Ukraine-born Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, has pleaded not guilty to federal campaign-finance violations in a separate criminal case.
Trump has claimed not to know Parnas or fellow Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, though social media posts include images of the three of them together in 2018.
When asked by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about Trump’s denial of knowing him, Parnas flatly responded: “He lied”.