On Tuesday night, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a long-awaited tranche of documents related to their investigation of Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-Floridian man accused by federal prosecutors of myriad campaign finance violations, crimes related to fraud, and conspiracies along with his partner Igor Fruman.
The duo, of course, are also infamous for serving as hatchet men in the Ukraine on behalf of President Donald Trump’s ”personal attorney” Rudy Giuliani—as part of a semi-successful scheme to remove then-ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and peddle influence under the imprimatur of Trump’s own White House. In the end, despite the diplomatic scalp, those business ventures turned to dust and the least of the participants are facing federal charges. Giuliani is also in the crosshairs of an investigation by the Southern District of New York (SDNY).
Up to now, the moving and shaking in Ukraine has been described with the soft euphemism of “shadow diplomacy.” But the documents reveal something quite a bit darker than that.
Like a small crate of materiel, the document dump contains quite a few political bombshells. There’s a shocking letter between former Trump attorney John Dowd and current Trump attorney Jay Sekulow confirming that Trump signed off on Dowd representing Parnas and Fruman. Most reaction thus far, however, has focused on an exchange between Parnas and Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde, which appears to show a plot directly against Yovanovitch’s physical well-being. It had already been reported that there was some kind of threat concocted by the White House, but the latest information paints a clearer picture of what was going on behind the scenes.
Beginning on page 19 of the explosive file, Hyde suggests he has people following Yovanovitch, provides constant updates om her location and security detail, and tells Parnas: “Are willing to help if we/you would like a price.”
Hyde then follows up: “Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money…what I was told.” Parnas responds: “Lol.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was alarmed by that conversation and asked: “What the bloody hell is this all about?”
Olivia Beavers, a national security reporter for The Hill, also focused on the scandalous text messages between Hyde and Parnas.
Appears Parnas/Hyde are talking re. Yovanovitch — Not a ton of context, but on face of it, sounds stalker-ish.
– "They are willing to help if we/you would like a price… guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money."
– "The address I sent you checks out" pic.twitter.com/Jae8DNyjt1
— Olivia Beavers (@Olivia_Beavers) January 14, 2020
Politico’s Natasha Bertrand had a similar take on what those exchanges meant:
Um holy sh*t. This certainly makes it sound like Parnas and co. were actively tracking Yovanovitch's movements. This could explain why Yovanovitch was moved out of Ukraine so quickly. https://t.co/4rBRB06ZGN pic.twitter.com/5Gc8WcGPih
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) January 14, 2020
Former White House ethics attorney Walter Shaub tied the “stalker-ish” behavior back to Trump himself:
Four months after these goons stalked the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Trump cryptically told the Ukrainian president that "she's going to go through some things." https://t.co/U3yg3mCLtb
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 15, 2020
National security attorney Bradley P. Moss took stock of those potentially incendiary messages and said they did not portend well for Trump.
“With every layer that gets peeled back and evidence unveiled, the worse this whole saga gets for the president,” Moss told Law&Crime. “Not only did we get more confirmation that Rudy’s efforts were directly authorized by the president, but we learned that these personal henchmen were physically stalking a U.S. Ambassador. This is beyond chilling.”
Former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal also connected Trump to the bizarre surveillance campaign—noting a letter from Giuliani to recently-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the former New York City mayor says he’s acting with the express blessing and knowledge of the 45th president.
“This letter from Giuliani, just released, looks hugely significant,” Katyal tweeted. “It says Ukraine was done for the President in his personal capacity and [with] Trump’s knowledge, not, as Trump has claimed, for the American people. Trump is going to have to claim Giuliani [was] lying.”
Former U.S. ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith noted that the upshot of what the Parnas documents reveal was essentially a U.S. ”plot against the security of a U.S. Ambassador.”
Onetime federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti also wondered just how deep Trump was in the efforts to track and take out Yovanovitch.
Unless the president was part of the scheme against the Ambassador. The public deserves to know whether Trump was involved in this plot against the U.S. Ambassador. https://t.co/yl8trLCudw
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) January 15, 2020
“Unless the president was part of the scheme against the Ambassador,” he commented. “The public deserves to know whether Trump was involved in this plot against the U.S. Ambassador.”
Yovanovitch’s lawyer Lawrence Robbins is demanding an investigation.
BREAKING: Ambassador Yovanovitch calls for an investigation into whether she was surveilled.
Her lawyer Lawrence Robbins tells @NBCNews the notion her movements were being monitored is "disturbing" pic.twitter.com/aZLISjtieB
— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) January 15, 2020
“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing,” he said. “We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]