FBI agents on Thursday visited the Connecticut home and business of Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate whose purported surveillance of the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine last year has become an issue in the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The visits came on the same day that Ukrainian officials said they had opened an investigation into Hyde's claims to Lev Parnas, a then-associate of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that he was tracking the movements of American ambassador Marie Yovanovitch last year when she was still posted in Kyiv.
Parnas and Giuliani last year were engaged in an effort to oust Yovanovitch as part of a broader push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Senate on Thursday began its impeachment trial of Trump. The House of Representatives a month earlier impeached the president in connection with his withholding of congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine while he was pressuring that country's new president to announce a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
An FBI spokesman in New Haven confirmed the visits to Hyde's home in Simsbury, and to his business office in Avon on Thursday morning, after they were first reported by CNN.
Hyde, who is seeking to win the GOP nomination to unseat incumbent Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut's 5th District, began donating to Trump and to the Republican National Committee in September 2016.
Hyde had worked for more than 16 years as a landscaper and in construction, according to his LinkedIn page, but in December 2018 became president of a Washington, D.C.-based government and public relations firm, Finley Hyde & Associates, according to that page.
Messages for Hyde, 40, left by CNBC was not immediately returned.
A senior law enforcement official told NBC News that the visits were not to conduct a court-authorized search but did not elaborate on the FBI's reason for the visits.
A neighbor of Hyde told NBC that one FBI agent arrived at Hyde's residence before dawn and parked on the street in front of the home.
The neighbor spoke to the FBI agent and said to the best of his knowledge, the agent did not enter Hyde's home.
Hyde's communications with Parnas over the text messaging service WhatsApp were disclosed in a set of documents released Tuesday by House Democrats as part of the impeachment process. Parnas, who has been criminally charged with campaign finance violations, turned over those documents to the House.
In a March 23 text message to Parnas, Hyde had written of Yovanovitch, "Wow. Can't believe Trumo [sic] hasn't fired this b----. I'll get right in that."
"She [sic] under heavy protection outside Kiev," Hyde texted.
He went on to describe Yovanovitch's location, her communications and her security level.
"They are moving her tomorrow," Hyde wrote Parnas on May 25.
Later that same day, Hyde texted: "She's talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off."
And then, "She's next to the embassy."
Hyde has denied spying on Yovanovitch, saying his comments in text messages to Parnas about her alleged movements were made in jest and while he was drinking alcohol.
Hyde, in a Sinclair Media interview that aired Wednesday, said, "I thought we were playing."
"It's kind of unfortunate the left had to get their panties in a bunch," Hyde said.
But House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., on Wednesday demanded documents from the State Department related to any possible threats that Hyde posed to Yovanovitch, who had been recalled from Kyiv in May.
In a letter to Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao, Engel wrote, "Mr. Hyde claimed in one message to have 'a person inside,' presumably in the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, who is 'willing to help if we/you would like a price.'"
"The strong implication from these messages is that someone with detailed knowledge of the Ambassador's whereabouts and security protocols was providing that information in real time to Mr. Hyde," Engel wrote.
"I cannot overstate the profound security risk that this poses to the U.S. mission and our interests in Ukraine."
Parnas, in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, called Hyde a "weird" man whom he first met at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Parnas said in the same interview that he did not believe that Hyde was actually surveilling.
"I think he was either drunk or he was trying to make himself bigger than he was, so I didn't take it seriously," Parnas said.
On May 16, 2019, Doral, Florida, police were dispatched to the president's golf resort in that city, Trump National Doral, where an officer met Hyde, "who explained to us that he was in fear for his life, was set up and that a hit man was out to get him," according to a police report obtained by CNBC.
"Mr. Hyde spoke about emails he sent that may have placed his life in jeopardy," the officer wrote. "Mr. Hyde explained several times that he was paranoid that someone was out to get him."
"While one scene, Mr. Hyde spoke about a variety of different names, contacts and provided information to why he felt his life was in danger," the report said. "While on the way to [REDACTED], Mr. Hyde continued to act paranoid telling us not to stop next to certain vehicles ... he explained that he was scared due to several painting workers and landscape workers trying to do harm to him because they weren't working."
"Additionally, Mr. Hyde explained that his computer was being hacked by Secret Service," police said. "And then went on to further explain that the secret service was ... on the premises watching him."
The Associated Press, citing Simsbury police records, has reported that Hyde had to turn over to authorities several rifles, shotguns and almost 400 rounds of ammunition because of a protective order.
NBC News reported Wednesday night that although Hyde has claimed that he served in Iraq as a Marine, and that he was deployed to North Korea, "Records provided ... the Marine Corps show that Hyde served in the Marine Reserve for six years and won numerous medals, but they make no mention of deployments in Iraq or North Korea."
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano urged Hyde to end his congressional campaign.
"His campaign is a distraction for the Democrats to raise money and falsely label all Republicans with his antics," Romano tweeted.
Correction: NBC News reported Wednesday night on Robert Hyde's military records. An earlier version misstated the day.