WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday he “never heard” that his top envoy to Ukraine, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, might have been under surveillance before she was recalled to Washington, accused of being disloyal to President Donald Trump.
“Until this story broke, I had, to the best of my recollection, had never heard of this at all,” Pompeo told Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative radio show host.
He did not offer any other details during the 11-minute interview except to say that he had “never met” Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
In text messages released this week by House Democrats, Parnas is shown to have been in communication last March with a Trump supporter and Republican congressional candidate, Robert Hyde, an ex-landscaper with a history of erratic episodes who claimed to have been in touch with someone in Kiev who was conducting surveillance on Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch was told to return to Washington in late April, months ahead of schedule, after Trump’s eldest son described her as a “joker,” and other conservatives denounced her for unfounded accusations of corruption and disloyalty to Trump.
The newly released documents, which surfaced just as the Senate opened the impeachment trial against Trump, have prompted Ukraine to open its own investigation into whether its laws and international treaties that protect the right of diplomats had been violated.
Ukraine “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory, the country’s Internal Affairs Ministry said Thursday.
In the text messages with Parnas, Hyde suggested he was in touch with someone who was closely monitoring Yovanovitch.
In one message he reported that she was “under heavy protection” outside of Kiev and went on to say that his “guy” there thought the security might be provided by the FSB, the Russian federal security agency.
Several days later Hyde told Parnas that the “guys” in Ukraine were “willing to help” for a price. “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money,” he told Parnas.
No evidence has surfaced publicly that Hyde had contacts in Ukraine. Hyde has said he was “playing with” Parnas when he sent the messages, and Parnas has dismissed Hyde as someone who was regularly drunk.
A lawyer for Parnas, Joseph Bondy, said that the text messages indicated that his client did not take part in any possible surveillance.
But Yovanovitch’s lawyer, Lawrence S. Robbins, has described the new evidence as “disturbing” and said that he expected “appropriate authorities” to investigate.
In a second interview Friday, with conservative commentator Tony Katz, Pompeo said the safety of U.S. diplomats was a top priority, including what “was going on in Kiev up and through the spring of last year when Ambassador Yovanovitch was there, and in our embassy in Kiev even today.”
He also suggested that the State Department was investigating the possible surveillance against Yovanovitch, although his aides previously had refused to answer questions about whether that would happen.
“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” he told Katz. “Our obligation, my obligation as secretary of state, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate.”
U.S. diplomats for months have seethed over Pompeo’s lack of outward support for — or defense of — Yovanovitch, a highly respected foreign service officer who had served as something of a mentor for other women in the State Department.
In the interview with Katz, Pompeo repeated that he had never met Parnas and said “I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him.” And he described the impeachment to Hewitt as “this noise here in Washington.”