WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday the State Department would examine alleged surveillance of former U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch by associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” he told Tony Katz, a radio show host. But in his first remarks on the matter, Pompeo also cast doubt on allegations that Giuliani associates may have been tracking the American diplomat.
“I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as Secretary of State, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate,” he said. “Any time there is someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers, we’ll obviously do that.”
Pompeo said he did not know about the alleged surveillance before this week.
“I’d never heard about this at all,” Pompeo told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative talk radio host. “Until the story broke, I had, to the best of my recollection, had never heard of this at all.”
The allegations emerged Tuesday, when House Democrats released text messages and documents suggesting that Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate, discussed tracking Yovanovitch in March 2019.
The text messages show Parnas communicating with Robert Hyde, a pro-Trump congressional candidate in Connecticut who claimed to have Yovanovitch under surveillance. In March, Parnas sent Hyde articles critical of Yovanovitch. Hyde responded, “Wow. can’t believe Trumo [sic] hasn’t fired this b****.”
Hyde also sent Parnas a series of messages suggesting he had hired people in Ukraine to surveil the ambassador and was getting updates about her whereabouts and activities. “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off,” Hyde wrote in one message. In another: “They will let me know when she’s on the move.”
The State Department had previously not answered any questions about the new evidence, even as Ukrainian officials launched an investigation into the allegations.
In a statement Thursday, Ukraine’s interior ministry said it did not want to interfere in U.S. domestic affairs, but it could not ignore potentially illegal activities and needed to protect the rights and safety of foreign diplomats deployed on its soil.
Ukraine’s investigation intends to determine whether “there actually was a violation” or “just bravado and fake information during informal conversation between two U.S. citizens,” the statement said.
On Friday, Pompeo also told Hewitt he “never met” Parnas, who has emerged as a central player in the impeachment proceedings against Trump. The House impeached Trump after allegations emerged that he had solicited Ukraine’s help in digging up dirt on one of his 2020 political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
A Ukraine-born associate of Giuliani, Parnas helped Giuliani pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden. Parnas said this week that Trump and Giuliani were routinely informed of the behind-the-scenes developments in the work he did on their behalf in Ukraine.
“He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview earlier this week.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham pushed back on Parnas’ assertions.
“These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison,” she said of Parnas, who is facing unrelated campaign finance charges. “The facts haven’t changed – the president did nothing wrong and this impeachment, which was manufactured and carried out by the Democrats has been a sham from the start.”
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