Rudy Giuliani (L), personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump; Marie Yovanovitch (R), former U.S. ambassador to UkrainePhoto by AFP/U.S. Embassy in Ukraine
Associates of Rudy Giuliani, the personal lawyer of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, conducted an extended campaign of surveillance against the former American ambassador to Ukraine, according to new evidence released on Jan. 14 as part of Trump’s impeachment.
Text messages, scans of written notes and other documents provided by Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani, show the former New York City mayor and others close to him sharing information on the ambassador, making contact with disgraced Ukrainian officials and attempting to dig up dirt on Trump’s political rivals.
Parnas and another associate, Igor Fruman, were arrested in October and are facing trial for campaign finance violations. Parnas has agreed to cooperate in the impeachment probe.
In one particularly menacing series of messages over the WhatsApp messenger, Parnas and Robert F. Hyde, a former Republican congressional candidate and Trump donor, discuss having then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch removed from office while receiving updates on her whereabouts in Kyiv.
The messages provide further information on Trump and his proxies’ unprecedented smear campaign against Yovanovitch, whom they claim was biased against the U.S. president and even working for his opponents. Despite the total absence of evidence behind these charges, Yovanovitch was removed from office on May 20.
The communications also offer a window into Giuliani’s backchannel attempts to get Ukraine to investigate U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, considered to be Trump’s likely Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election.
In the most surprising segment of the document release, Parnas and Hyde discuss in a WhatsApp chat Yovanovitch’s whereabouts in Kyiv and the level of her security, with Hyde indicating the pair have “a person inside” the embassy.
A message from Hyde stating that Yovanovitch’s phone and computer are off may also indicate that the pair were having her monitored electronically, too.
Several statements suggest the pair are considering taking action against Yovanovitch.
On March 25, 2019, Hyde writes, “They will let me know when she’s on the move.” He then adds, “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.”
“Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money…what I was told,” he continues.
The documents do not confirm to whom Hyde is referring and what their “help” would look like.
Hyde also suggests collaborating with the local security services to have Yovanovitch removed.
At several points in the conversation, Hyde indicates that their campaign of surveillance against Yovanovitch has caught the attention of the embassy’s security. Hyde repeatedly remarks upon the increased level of protection she is under.
On March 23, Hyde writes, “She’s under heavy protection outside Kiev (sic).”
Parnas responds, “I know crazy shit.”
“My guys think maybe FSB..?” Hyde replies, using the acronym from the Russian Federal Security Service.
Three days later, Hyde provides more information on the security measures being taken to protect Yovanovitch.
“Update she will not be moved special security unit upgraded force on the compound people are already aware of the situation my contacts are asking what is the next step because they cannot keep going to check people will start to ask questions,” he writes in a punctuation-free message on March 26.
Hyde also makes defamatory statements about Yovanovitch in the chat, terming her a “political puppet” and saying he can’t “believe Trump has not fired this bitch.”
After the chat records were released, Yovanovitch called for an investigation into Parnas and Hyde’s surveillance against her.
“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing,” a statement from her attorney reads. “We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”
Yovanovitch’s ouster was preceded by a smear campaign against her in the U.S. conservative press. Many of the criticisms hurled against the ambassador could be traced back to Yuriy Lutsenko, at the time Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
In an interview with the Washington D.C.-based newspaper The Hill published on March 20, Lutsenko claimed that Yovanovitch had given him a list of people whom Ukraine should not prosecute and alleged that the ambassador had tried to interfere in the work of his agency.
The U.S. State Department termed these claims “an outright fabrication.” Lutsenko would eventually recant his statements.
Yovanovitch had earned the ire of Lutsenko by criticizing Ukraine’s failure to prosecute high-level corruption.
Now, a second set of documents released by the House of Representatives show Lutsenko fed negative information on the former U.S. ambassador to Parnas.
Lutsenko provided Parnas with a list of people he claimed Yovanovitch said could not be prosecuted: Sergii Leshchenko, then a pro-reform lawmaker who today is a Kyiv Post columnist; Mustafa Nayyem, another pro-reform lawmaker at the time; and Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center nonprofit’s executive board.
In the course of the Russian-language conversation, Lutsenko also put pressure on Parnas to take action against Yovanovitch, suggesting that he cannot help Parnas with Biden while she is in office.
“It’s just that if you don’t make a decision about Madam — you are bringing into question all my allegations. Including about B,” Lutsenko texted on March 22, 2019.
“B” likely refers to Biden. The former vice president’s son served on the board of directors of Burisma, a private energy company owned by former Ukrainian Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky.
Giuliani alleges that the elder Biden forced Ukraine to fire Lutsenko’s predecessor, Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, in order to prevent his son from being investigated. Biden indeed called for Shokin’s firing, but was echoing the sentiment among many Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and reformers. There is no evidence Biden abused his position as vice president to protect his son in Ukraine.
Giuliani has also made a slew of unsubstantiated accusations of corruption against the Bidens. Ukrainian politicians like Lutsenko have been more than willing to assist his search for dirt on them.
“Mr. Zlochevsky matter is progressing well. There is testimony about transfers to B,” Lutsenko tells Parnas in a message on March 26. “And here you can’t even get rid of one (female) fool :(”
“She is not a simple fool, believe me,” Parnas answers. “But she’s not getting away.”
The released documents also show that Giuliani pushed for a meeting with Zelensky in May 2019 when he planned a visit to Kyiv. At that time, Zelensky had already been elected president, but had not yet taken office.
Giuliani was forced to cancel his trip to Kyiv after news of his plans broke, sparking outrage in the U.S.
In a previously undisclosed letter dated May 10, 2019, which Giuliani attempted to pass to Zelensky through Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, the lawyer sought a half-hour meeting a week before Zelensky’s inauguration. Giuliani did not specify the reason for the meeting in the letter.
However, he introduced himself as the personal counsel to Trump and said he would be joined by Victoria Toensing, a pro-Trump attorney who would later join the defense team of Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who is fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery charges.
Communication with Ukrainian officials
Text messages also show how Parnas actively sought contact with Zelensky’s inner circle in preparation for Giuliani’s May trip to Kyiv, which was subsequently canceled.
The Ukrainians appeared responsive at first, but their interest soon dwindled.
Parnas had his most extensive contact with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. The two stayed in touch and met in person, according to their WhatsApp exchange.
Parnas also reached out to Serhiy Shefir, a close aide to Zelensky, and Ivan Bakanov, who heads Ukraine’s SBU security service. Shefir met with Parnas and Fruman in Kyiv in May, but messages suggest that he then ignored Parnas. Shefir told the Kyiv Post he wasn’t impressed with the meeting.
Parnas reached out to Bakanov in an attempt to organize a phone call between Giuliani and a Zelensky insider. Bakanov said he had passed information on to Zelensky through the “established channel.” Further messages indicate that the call never occurred, much to Parnas’ chagrin.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump on Dec. 18, 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The lawmakers will vote on Jan. 15 on sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, where the majority Republicans hold the majority. Trump could stand trial the following week.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Jan. 15 made the following statement:
“Documents turned over to the Intelligence Committee by Lev Parnas include a profoundly alarming dialogue between Mr. Parnas and Robert Hyde, a Trump donor. The messages suggest a possible risk to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post last year. 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.
“Yesterday, the Foreign Affairs Committee staff contacted the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security to flag this information and seek assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Embassy Kyiv and that of Ambassador Yovanovitch. I’m grateful for the Department’s quick response and confident this matter is getting the attention it merits.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee will now seek to learn what, if anything, the State Department knew about this situation at the time these messages were sent. Today, I will convey a formal request for documents, information, and a briefing from senior officials related to this matter. This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Bermet Talant contributed to this report.
(C)KIYV POST 2020