On January 15, the United States House Intelligence Committee released a range of documents relating to Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Among the documents were text messages suggesting the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was being stalked.
The texts, which also discussed the ambassador in derogatory language, deepen the controversy around the president and his associates’ dealings with Ukraine. Yovanovitch was a key witness in the House impeachment inquiry that eventually led to two articles of impeachment of Trump.
Who is Lev Parnas?
Parnas is a Ukraine-born businessman with US citizenship. An NPR report about Parnas called him “one of Giuliani’s fixers,” which is to say he was called upon to solve problems.
Parnas, who runs an investment fraud insurance business, met Giuliani through a mutual friend while at “political functions.”
Parnas and another associate, Igor Fruman, became intertwined with Trump through their connections in Ukraine. The two associates were used to search for incriminating evidence against former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s potential opponents in the 2020 presidential race, and Biden’s son, Hunter, The Millennial Source reported.
The two men were also allegedly involved in an effort to pressure the Ukrainian president to publicly launch an investigation of Biden and his son.
Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, though photos suggest otherwise, according to USA TODAY. However, on Wednesday night, Parnas appeared for an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. In the interview, Parnas explicitly tied Trump to a pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government. Parnas said, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on.” He said he spoke with Trump on multiple occasions.
Parnas also undermined the Trump administration’s chief defense of their Ukraine-related activities. Trump and his allies have claimed their interest was merely fighting corruption in the country, according to the Washington Post. However, Parnas claimed, “It was never about corruption.” Rather, their only interest was getting incriminating information on the Bidens.
What did the texts say?
The newly released documents from the House Intelligence Committee are pertinent to the impeachment inquiry in general. However, a series of text messages have created a firestorm around the possibility that a US ambassador was being stalked, according to Business Insider, either directly or indirectly at the direction of the president.
The text messages were sent to Parnas by Robert Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress and staunch supporter of Trump. In addition to referring to Yovanovitch as a “bitch,” the messages, all sent in late March 2019, suggest that Hyde is either personally watching the ambassador or is in contact with someone who is.
One of Hyde’s message reads, in full: “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.”
Two subsequent texts simply read: “She under heavy protection outside Kiev” and “Nothing has changed she is still not moving they check again today.” A final text on the matter claims: “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”
Hyde’s response to the text messages
Hyde denied involvement with spying on Yovanovitch. In a post on both his Twitter and Facebook accounts, Hyde claimed he “was never in Kiev” and that the text messages were jokes he and his friends were playing on Parnas (referred to as “some dweeb”).
This controversy has put a spotlight on Hyde, who, in addition to being a candidate for Congress in Connecticut, has donated to both Trump’s re-election campaign and to the Connecticut Republican Party.
After Sen. Kamala Harris ended her campaign for the presidential race in December 2019, according to CNN, Hyde mocked her in a now-deleted tweet that used vulgar sexual innuendo, according to Business Insider. As a result of the tweet, the Connecticut Republican Party returned Hyde’s donation. Hyde was also found by a family support magistrate to be delinquent in child support payments.
Despite Hyde’s denials, Yovanovitch’s lawyer has called for an investigation into the possibility that the ambassador was being stalked, according to NPR.
The arrest of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman
On October 9, 2019, Parnas and Furman were arrested at Dulles International Airport as they attempted to leave the country, according to Vanity Fair. They were charged with breaking federal campaign finance laws by attempting “to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians in a bid to affect U.S.-Ukraine relations.” Among the recipients of the money was a pro-Trump super PAC.
How does this relate to the impeachment of Donald Trump?
Yovanovitch is referred to as “the woman” in the infamous transcript of Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Referring to the ambassador, Trump says she is “going to go through some things.” Both Trump and Zelensky characterize her as a “bad” ambassador.
In the transcript, Trump is quoted asking Zelensky for a “favor” after the Ukrainian president discusses the US’s military support of Ukraine. That phone call, which was released after a whistleblower report, in part led to the impeachment inquiry in the House.
In the inquiry, Yovanovitch testified she was the victim of a smear campaign, The Millennial Source reported, and she was forced out of her position. During her November 15 testimony, Trump attacked the ambassador on Twitter, saying, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”