Politics

Ukraine launches probes into possible surveillance of ex-US ambassador Yovanovitch and suspected hack of Burisma

Key Points
  • Ukraine announced probes into whether former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was illegally monitored by private U.S. citizens, as well as the reported Russian hacking of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.
  • Both investigations involve entities that are at the center of President Donald Trump's impeachment, which is about to head to trial in the Senate.
  • The investigation into possible surveillance of Yovanovitch came after House Democrats released a trove of new evidence, the Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs said.
Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, arrives back from a break in the House Intelligence Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Longworth Building on Friday, November 15, 2019.
Tom Williams| CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

Ukraine authorities announced investigations Thursday into whether former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was illegally monitored by private U.S. citizens, as well as the reported hacking of a Ukrainian natural gas company by Russian operatives.

Both probes involve entities that are at the center of President Donald Trump's impeachment, which is about to head to trial in the Senate.

The investigation into possible surveillance of Yovanovitch, who was ousted by Trump in May amid what she called a "smear campaign" orchestrated by the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, stems from a trove of new documentary evidence released by House Democrats as part of the impeachment process, the Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs said.

Among the documents were messages from a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut named Robert Hyde, who suggested that he was monitoring Yovanovitch in Ukraine.

That evidence was provided to the House by Lev Parnas, who was assisting Giuliani in efforts to get Ukraine to announce investigations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump himself had asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to "look into" the Bidens in a July 25 phone call that eventually helped launch the impeachment probe.

Hunter Biden had served on the board of Ukraine natural gas company Burisma Holdings while his father was vice president. Trump and his allies have accused Joe Biden, who had pushed for Ukraine to fire a prosecutor there, of abusing his office to protect his son or have his family profit off the vice presidency. Those allegations are unsubstantiated and the Bidens have not been credibly accused of wrongdoing.

"Ukraine's position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America," the Internal Affairs Ministry said in a statement Thursday. "However, the published references cited by the Washington Post contain a possible violation of the law of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of the foreign country."

"Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on the territory of its own state," the statement added.

Minutes later, the ministry announced a probe into a recent hack on "several" Ukrainian companies, including Burisma, in which employees' personal data and executives' emails were stolen.

"It is noted that the hacker attack is probably committed by the Russian special services," the ministry said.

The statement also said Ukraine's National Police has reached out to the FBI for help acquiring information, and that it is inviting the FBI to join a joint international investigation team.

Parnas, a Ukraine-born businessman living in Florida, was arrested at an airport in October with a one-way ticket out of the U.S., and charged with campaign-finance violations in U.S. court in Manhattan. His associate, Igor Fruman, was also arrested. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Parnas has previously said he was willing to testify as part of Trump's impeachment saga in Congress.

House Democrats voted Dec. 18 to impeach Trump on articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — both of which stem from his efforts to have Ukraine announce a probe into the Bidens, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

The articles of impeachment were formally transmitted to the Senate on Wednesday, after being withheld for weeks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was trying to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make concessions about the trial rules. McConnell says that a trial on whether to convict Trump of the charges and remove him from office — an unlikely prospect in the GOP-held chamber — is expected to begin early next week.

But Tuesday evening, the Democratic chairs of multiple House committees shared the new evidence from Parnas, which includes copies of handwritten letters, phone records and other back-channel communications with multiple figures.

Hyde's messages to Parnas are included in the tranche of files.

"Wow. Can't believe Trumo [sic] hasn't fired this b----. I'll get right in that," Hyde said of Yovanovitch in a March 23 text to Parnas, the documents show.

"She [sic] under heavy protection outside Kiev," Hyde said. He goes on to describe Yovanovitch's location, her communications and her security level.

Hyde, in a Sinclair Media interview that aired Wednesday, denied having eyes on Yovanovitch, claiming, "I thought we were playing."

"It's kind of unfortunate the left had to get their panties in a bunch," Hyde said.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano urged Hyde to end his congressional campaign, saying his antics are not helping Trump.

"His campaign is a distraction for the Democrats to raise money and falsely label all Republicans with his antics," Romano tweeted.

VIDEO17:2717:27
The House delivers Pres. Trump impeachment papers to the Senate