Ukraine has launched separate criminal investigations into the possible surveillance of a U.S. ambassador to Kyiv and the alleged Russian hacking of a gas firm tied to the impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump.
The Interior Ministry made the announcements on January 16, two days after Congressional investigators released a trove of documents showing Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, discussing former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s removal from Ukraine.
Although the ministry said in its statement the Ukrainian police “are not interfering in the internal political affairs of the United States,” the published text messages “contain facts of possible violations of Ukrainian law and of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.”
A separate ministry statement refers to a report by a California-based cybersecurity firm that alleged Russian government hackers penetrated Burisma Holdings, where the son of Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden’s son sat on the board from 2014 until last year.
The investigation is also looking into hackers allegedly targeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Kvartal 95 Studio. Ukrainian police have asked for assistance from the FBI and cybersecurity firm Area 1.
Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “look into” allegations of wrongdoing by the Bidens and Burisma in a July 25, 2019 phone call. Their conversation was the subject of an ensuing whistle-blower’s complaint that triggered the impeachment investigation, which began in September.
Parnas, a Ukrainian-American businessman who has pleaded not guilty to federal campaign-finance violations in a separate criminal case, is seen as a key figure in the impeachment inquiry into Trump.
On January 15, he told U.S. TV stations Trump “knew exactly” what was happening with an alleged campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
Parnas said he worked closely with Giuliani, and with Trump’s full knowledge, to get Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the front-runners to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in this year’s presidential election.
"President Trump knew exactly what was going on," Parnas told MSNBC in an interview that aired late on January 15.
"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," he added.
Parnas then doubled down on his claim later in an interview with CNN when asked about Trump’s claim he had no association with Parnas.
“He’s lying,” Parnas said.
In a statement to MSNBC during the airing of the interview, Giuliani denied that he told Ukrainian officials that Parnas spoke on behalf of Trump.
Trump has vehemently denied all allegations that he was behind a campaign to force Ukrainian officials to investigate the business dealings of Biden and his son. The allegations are part of the impeachment trial that opened on January 16.
Even though the House of Representatives voted on December 18 to impeach Trump, Democrats on January 14 released new evidence that they claim shows how deep the campaign to root out information on Biden ran.
The documents also show Connecticut congressional candidate Robert Hyde disparaging former Ambassador Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and giving him updates on her location and mobile-phone use, raising concerns about possible surveillance.
Parnas told CNN on January 16 that he and Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton "could fill in all the dots, I think, because I was on the ground there, and he [Bolton] was over here."
Representative Adam Schiff (California-Democrat), who heads the team of trial managers in the impeachment trial, said in a statement on January 16 that Parnas’s “public interviews in the last 24 hours shed additional insights into the origins” of the U.S president’s alleged “scheme, the work Parnas and Rudy Giuliani were doing on the president’s behalf, and other members of the Administration who were knowledgeable.”
Parnas said the efforts were aimed solely at getting Trump re-elected in 2020, and not at curbing corruption in Ukraine in general.
"That was the way everyone viewed it," Parnas told CNN.
"That was the most important thing…for him to stay on for four years and keep the fight going. I mean, there was no other reason for doing it," he added.
The Democrat-led House of Representatives has charged Trump with abusing the power of his office for personal gain and obstruction of Congress.
Trump denies the charges and has called the impeachment proceedings "a witch hunt.”
The trial managers from the House act as prosecutors in the impeachment trial while the senators, the majority of whom are Republicans, act as jurors.
The presiding judge will be Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
It is unclear, what, if any, new evidence will be admissible in the trial given that the ground rules have yet to be determined.