WASHINGTON – A House committee chairman said his panel will investigate what he says are “profoundly alarming” text messages that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.
House Democrats on Tuesday night released a trove of documents they obtained from Lev Parnas, a close associate of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. The messages show that a Trump donor named Robert F. Hyde disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the messages are “profoundly alarming” and “suggest a possible risk” to Yovanovitch's security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.
“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump's efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador's reputation,” Engel said.
He said the committee staff flagged the information for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Yovanovitch and committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.
Democrats released the files Tuesday as they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trump's trial. The documents add new context to their charges that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats as he withheld military aid – and could add pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to hear witnesses in the trial.
They show Parnas communicating with Giuliani before Yovanovitch's removal, and that he appeared to be pushing unfounded claims that Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, were somehow engaged in corruption in Ukraine.
The documents include a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraine's president to investigate “the Biden case.”
In an interview Wednesday with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, Parnas said: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President.”
Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected but before he took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”
One of the documents released by Democrats is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.” Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.
Democrats said Parnas' attorney confirmed that Parnas wrote the notes.
The documents – including phone records, texts and flash drives turned over by Parnas – were sent to the House Judiciary Committee by three other House panels “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment,” according to a statement.
Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. The men have pleaded not guilty.
In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The ambassador's ouster, ordered by Trump, was at the center of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings that she was the victim of a “smear campaign.”