WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday he “never heard” that his top envoy to Ukraine, Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch, might have been under surveillance before she was recalled to Washington, accused of being disloyal to President Trump.
“Until this story broke, I had, to the best of my recollection, had never heard of this at all,” Mr. 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 Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer. In text messages released this week by House Democrats, Mr. Parnas is shown to have been in communication last March with a Trump supporter and Republican congressional candidate, Robert F. Hyde, an ex-landscaper with a history of erratic episodes who claimed to have been in touch with someone in Kyiv who was conducting surveillance on Ms. Yovanovitch.
Ms. Yovanovitch was told to return to Washington in late April, months ahead of schedule, after Mr. Trump’s eldest son described her as a “joker,” and other conservatives denounced her for unfounded accusations of corruption and disloyalty to Mr. Trump.
The newly released documents, which surfaced just as the Senate opened the impeachment trial against Mr. 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 Mr. Parnas, Mr. Hyde suggested he was in touch with someone who was closely monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. In one message he reported that she was “under heavy protection” outside of Kyiv, and went on to say that his “guy” there thought the security might be provided by the F.S.B., the Russian federal security agency.
Several days later he told Mr. 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 Mr. Parnas.
No evidence has surfaced publicly that Mr. Hyde had contacts in Ukraine. Mr. Hyde has said he was “playing with” Mr. Parnas when he sent the messages, and Mr. Parnas has dismissed Mr. Hyde as someone who was regularly drunk. A lawyer for Mr. Parnas, Joseph A. Bondy, said that the text messages indicated that his client did not take part in any possible surveillance.
But Ms. 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 on Friday, with the conservative commentator Tony Katz, Mr. Pompeo said the safety of American diplomats was a top priority, including what “was going on in Kyiv up and through the spring of last year when Ambassador Yovanovitch was there, and in our embassy in Kyiv even today.”
He also suggested that the State Department was investigating the possible surveillance against Ms. 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 Mr. Katz. “Our obligation, my obligation as secretary of state, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate.”
American diplomats for months have seethed over Mr. Pompeo’s lack of outward support for — or defense of — Ms. 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 Mr. Katz, Mr. Pompeo repeated that he had never met Mr. Parnas and “I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him.” And he described the impeachment to Mr. Hewitt as “this noise here in Washington.”
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