Pompeo under pressure over threats to Yovanovitch
Pressure is building on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reveal what he knew about any threats to the personal safety of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch following allegations that associates of Rudy Giuliani surveilled the career diplomat as they pushed for her removal.
The State Department on Thursday agreed to brief senators on what they knew of efforts to track the ambassador’s movements and what steps were taken to protect her. The move was in response to demands by congressional Democrats to launch investigations.
“I got a message from my staff director that they are talking about briefing us and at the highest levels,” Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN on Thursday.
Pompeo has not publicly acknowledged the allegations that Yovanovitch was under threat. The State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill.
“It took a lot of public and private shaming” to get the department to respond to senators seeking a briefing, said a source with knowledge of the conversations.
“Beyond that, there was senior staff level engagement throughout the last 24 hours to echo our rage and expectations,” the source said Thursday. “This morning, around 9 a.m., a senior official in the State Department reached out to offer setting up the briefing.”
Pompeo has come under criticism from current and former State Department officials for failing to speak out in defense of Yovanovitch, who was abruptly removed from her post in Kyiv in May. She later testified in the House impeachment inquiry that colleagues said she needed to return to Washington over concerns for her safety.
“It is incomprehensible that Secretary Pompeo has said nothing about the chilling revelations that one of his ambassadors’ movements and activities in Kyiv were being tracked by people discussing doing her harm,” said former Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Elizabeth Jones, who served in senior posts under Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Not only should he condemn this despicable behavior, but he must insist on an urgent investigation by the FBI and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security. Who was this person who was ‘on the inside’ with Ambassador Yovanovitch, as Robert Hyde bragged in his WhatsApp message?” Jones asked. “Every U.S. embassy and every U.S. ambassador is, no doubt, now distraught over this evidence that the secretary of State has callously abandoned his responsibility for the safety of Americans overseas.”
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry on Thursday announced it was opening an investigation into the possible illegal surveillance of Yovanovitch and requested assistance from the FBI, with federal agents reportedly visiting Hyde’s home and business and political office in Connecticut.
“It would be ironic that Ukraine is more interested in pursuing the security and what happened to the U.S. ambassador than the United States and the State Department would,” Menendez said on CNN. “I’m looking for a vigorous investigation of what went on here because ambassador Yovanovitch, at the House Intelligence Committee testified that she was, that she felt intimidated.”
House Democrats on Tuesday released documents obtained under subpoena that detail text messages between Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani, and Robert Hyde, a Trump campaign donor and congressional candidate in Connecticut.
Hyde is represented in the texts as tracking the ambassador’s movements in Kyiv, saying he has “a person inside.” He also asked Parnas for instruction, the documents show.
“If you want her out they need to make contact with security forces,” Hyde wrote to Parnas, referring to his “inside” contacts. In another message he says, “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who has also demanded answers from the State Department, called the revelations shocking.
“We really want to get to the truth and the American people want to get to the truth and I hope we do. I just think that some of the revelations that are coming out are shocking,” he said.
Parnas, who is under indictment for alleged campaign finance violations unrelated to the impeachment inquiry, has said he doesn’t believe Hyde had the capacity to surveil the ambassador and referred to him as a “drunk,” a “weird character” and someone trying to inflate his importance.
Hyde has likewise denied that he was following the ambassador, adding that he was “joking around” in the text messages.
Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer and who is spoken about in laudatory terms by colleagues, has stayed quiet following the bombshell revelations this week from Parnas. But her lawyer has demanded an investigation into the matter.
A former State Department official close to Yovanovitch said the former ambassador is “doing OK but is quite taken aback, as is everybody” over the alleged conspiracy.
Parnas, in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday night, said the only motivation to remove Yovanovitch was to clear the way to pressure the Ukrainian president to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian energy company Burisma in an effort to influence the 2020 election.
State Department officials who testified in the impeachment inquiry said Pompeo had decided against issuing statements of support for Yovanovitch after Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when Trump referred to the ambassador as “bad news” and that she was “going to go through some things.”
In November, following Yovanovitch’s public testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry in the House, Pompeo told reporters in a briefing that he “always” defends State Department employees.
“It’s the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world. Very proud of the team.”
This story was updated at 11:28 a.m. to clarify the paragraph on Giuliani, Solomon and Yovanovitch.