Document Dump Suggests Trump Associates Were Surveilling U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine

Jan 15, 2020
Originally published on January 15, 2020 5:03 pm
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Former U.S. ambassadors are expressing alarm at newly released documents related to President Trump's impeachment. They include messages suggesting a U.S. citizen, a supporter of President Trump, was tracking the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The documents, including letters, notes and texts, come from Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Among them are messages between Parnas and a man named Robert Hyde, a Trump donor running for Congress in Connecticut. Hyde uses vulgar language to describe then-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and suggests that he's been keeping tabs on her, writing in one message, quote, "she's talked to three people. Her phone is off, computer is off." In others, he writes cryptically, they're willing to help if we/you would like a price - guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money.

DANA SHELL SMITH: There's no other way to read that exchange of text except for a mafia-style menace.

KELEMEN: That's former ambassador Dana Shell Smith. She says diplomats know the risks they face overseas but don't expect that from Americans.

SHELL SMITH: We get used to knowing that we're under a threat from ISIS or Hezbollah or, you know, an entity like that. We never, ever imagine that we're under threat from other Americans and certainly not from a candidate for Congress from Connecticut who hangs out at Mar-a-Lago.

KELEMEN: Hyde, who, according to Mother Jones, was once placed in a psychiatric facility in Florida following an incident at Trump's Doral resort, has posted pictures of himself with the president. He tweeted last night that he was never in Kyiv and dismissed the messages about Yovanovitch, saying he was just playing with Parnas while having a few drinks. Yovanovitch's lawyer, though, is calling for an investigation. The notion that American citizens and others were monitoring the ambassador's movements, he writes, is disturbing. In her testimony last year, Yovanovitch described the call she received one night from a colleague who told her to get home because of security concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIE YOVANOVITCH: I asked her, my physical security? - because sometimes Washington knows more than we do about these things. And she said, no, she hadn't gotten that impression that it was a physical security issue. But they were concerned about my security, and I needed to come home right away.

KELEMEN: When she did return, she was told that the president had lost confidence in her. Yovanovitch believes she was the victim of a disinformation campaign by Rudy Giuliani and others who didn't like her anti-corruption agenda. She testified that she was shocked when she read what Trump said about her in a phone call with Ukraine's president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOVANOVITCH: She's going to go through some things. It didn't sound good. It sounded like a threat.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has never publicly backed Yovanovitch, and that has many former ambassadors, including Smith, fuming.

SHELL SMITH: His response when his ambassador was under threat was to yank her, not to deal with the threat.

KELEMEN: The State Department wouldn't comment on the WhatsApp messages from Hyde. The Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, Eliot Engel, says he's been in touch with diplomatic security officials and is, quote, "confident this matter is getting the attention it merits." He's making a formal request for documents and a briefing from senior State Department officials.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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