KYIV — State Department investigators this week interviewed hundreds of diplomats and employees at the US Embassy in Ukraine as part of an investigation into the alleged surveillance of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch by Rudy Giuliani's associates, two US officials with knowledge of the investigation told BuzzFeed News.
The interviews were conducted Wednesday and Thursday by officers from the State Department’s federal law enforcement and security arm, the Diplomatic Security Service, the diplomatic sources told BuzzFeed News. One of the sources said DSS was coordinating with Ukrainian authorities, which opened its own investigation into the matter Jan. 16.
The US Embassy declined to comment. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which announced the country's investigation, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Saturday but it said previously that it would be asking US authorities to work together.
One diplomatic source described the investigation as “cynical” and a “cover your ass” move on the part of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of his scheduled visit to Kyiv on Jan. 30 and 31. The source said it seemed as though it was happening “so that Pompeo could walk in and say ‘investigating your security is our number one priority.’”
One of the sources described US Embassy workers as being “spooked” by the surprise investigators showing up. It’s unclear how many of them were present, but the embassy employs over 300 people, including diplomats and local staffers, so it would take several officers to get through them all in two days. All diplomats and staffers were explicitly told to not speak with the press about the matter, according to one of the sources.
The DSS officers’ arrival came almost a week after Pompeo vowed to investigate whether Yovanovitch was being physically and electronically spied on while still in her role last March. “We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” he told an Indianapolis radio host on Jan. 17, according to the Associated Press.
Pompeo was criticized for being slow to react to news of possible surveillance of Yovanovitch, a three-time ambassador and public servant for 33 years whom colleagues have described as “a diplomat’s diplomat.” And he has not publicly spoken out in support of her despite claiming that he has in an explosive interview with National Public Radio’s Marie Louise Kelly on Friday. “I’ve defended every single person on this team,” Pompeo said. “I’ve done what’s right for every single person on this team.”
On Jan. 14, House Democrats released a trove of documents they obtained from Lev Parnas, a close associate of Giuliani's, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, including screenshots of text messages exchanged with a Republican named Robert Hyde, who is running for Congress in Connecticut. In the texts, Hyde called Yovanovitch a “bitch” and gave Parnas regular updates on her location and cell phone use, raising questions about possible surveillance. At one point in the exchange, Hyde seems to suggest that he has a team of goons trailing her in Ukraine and ready to help further if the price is right.
“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing,” Yovanovitch’s attorney, Laurie Rubenstein, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News at the time. “We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”
Yovanovitch was recalled in April last year after being accused of disloyalty by Trump's allies. In a partial video and recording from April 30, 2018, and published by ABC News on Friday, we learn why. It appears to catch the president telling his associates to “take her out” and “get rid” of her. During his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which ultimately led to his impeachment, Trump expressed his disdain toward Yovanovitch, who was already back in Washington, and said she would soon “go through some things.”