KYIV — Ukrainian authorities said Thursday they had opened a criminal investigation into whether former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance by associates of Rudy Giuliani while in Kyiv last spring.
Officials from Ukraine’s interior ministry announced the investigation in a televised briefing, citing a trove of documents released by House Democrats on Tuesday that included several cryptic WhatsApp messages between Lev Parnas and Robert Hyde that discussed monitoring Yovanovitch’s physical movements and electronic devices.
“Ukraine’s position is to not interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States,” an interior ministry official said. “However, the published records contain the fact of a possible violation of the legislation of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of another country.
“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on its territory."
The WhatsApp messages in question were sent last March and turned over this week to House Democrats as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Three House committees sent the evidence to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment.” The House sent the articles to the Senate on Wednesday evening.
In the texts between the men, Hyde calls Yovanovitch a “bitch” and suggests he’s in touch with people in Ukraine who were actively watching the ambassador.
“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” reads one message to Parnas from Hyde, an avid Trump supporter and a landscaper who is running for a House seat in Connecticut. Hyde followed that by saying: “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money… what I was told.”
It’s unclear exactly who, if anyone, was monitoring Yovanovitch at the time. Hyde couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, but he tweeted on Tuesday that he had never been to Kyiv.
Yovanovitch told BuzzFeed News through her attorney late Tuesday that “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.”
The US Embassy in Kyiv directed questions on the matter to the State Department, which didn’t respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment and hasn’t publicly commented since the texts became public.
Trump’s associates, specifically Giuliani, had been openly critical of Yovanovitch last spring and were actively campaigning to get her removed. Giuliani had claimed without evidence that Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer and two-time ambassador who served both Republican and Democrat presidents, was speaking poorly of Trump in public and behind closed doors.
Parnas is a key associate of Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump who ran the back-channel campaign in Ukraine that is at the heart of the president’s impeachment.
In an interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, Parnas said that President Trump was aware of the work he was doing for Giuliani.
"He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president," said Parnas, who was indicted on campaign finance charges.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said its goal “is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws” or “if it was just bravado and fake conversation between two US citizens.”
The ministry also said it had requested information from the FBI “about persons who may be involved in this possible criminal offense,” and added that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wants the US side to take part in the investigation.
Asked about his own texts with Parnas last March that were also released in the trove by House Democrats and that suggested he provided Parnas with a security detail while he was in Kyiv, Avakov declined to answer.
“No comments,” he said through a spokesperson.