New documents from Lev Parnas, though, suggest something more specific afoot: an effort to remove Yovanovitch as a favor to Ukraine in exchange for information on the Bidens — essentially, another quid pro quo.
The documents were given to House investigators by Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani who has been indicted and has since revealed key information about the Ukraine scandal.
The most-cited takeaway is that Yovanovitch may have been under some kind of surveillance. That would explain why she was told to leave Ukraine in the middle of the night. Yovanovitch has testified that she was told when she was recalled that “this is about your security. You need to come home immediately.”
But however unsavory that is, the bigger immediate news in the impeachment of Trump is the horse-trading that went on around the ambassador. It all suggests the Ukrainians were perhaps more interested in ousting Yovanovitch than were even Giuliani and company.
The most potentially troubling revelation is a reference to some kind of “price” regarding Yovanovitch. In text messages with Parnas, Robert F. Hyde — a Republican lobbyist, congressional candidate and big Trump supporter — talks about Yovanovitch’s movements and cellphone and computer usage. Then he adds, perhaps ominously, “They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.” He says in the next text, “Guess you can do anything in the Ukraine with money … what I was told.”
It is not clear exactly what the “price” referred to, but the next text suggested it was something potentially nefarious. It is also not clear who “they” is, but it seems to be someone in the coterie of Trump-adjacent operatives.
Perhaps the clearer evidence, though, comes in text messages in Russian between then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko and Parnas. In them, Lutsenko repeatedly alludes to an exchange involving Yovanovitch’s ouster and the Bidens:
- Lutsenko tells Parnas, “It’s just that if you don’t make a decision about Madam — you are calling into question all my declarations. Including about B.” (“Madam” rather clearly a reference to Yovanovitch, and “B” is apparently a reference to Hunter Biden or Burisma Holdings, the company that employed Hunter Biden, based on later texts.)
- Lutsenko says there is “testimony about transfers to B” and then adds, “And here you can’t get rid of one fool :(" Parnas responds, “She’s not a simple fool[,] trust me.” And then: “But she’s not getting away.”
- After Parnas tells Lutsenko “soon everything will turn around and we’ll be on the right course,” Lutsenko responds by saying he had copies of payments Burisma made to the investment firm co-founded by Hunter Biden.
All of these texts are from late March. Yovanovitch was removed the next month.
The text messages hark back to other texts between Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and top Trump administration officials. In those later texts, the announcement of investigations is repeatedly tied to a White House meeting for Zelensky. In these, the ouster of Yovanovitch is repeatedly tied to potentially damaging information about the Bidens. In both, the exchange is similar: An official U.S. government favor for Ukraine in exchange for something personally beneficial to Trump.
The idea that Lutsenko was interested in Yovanovitch’s ouster is not novel. The New Yorker’s Adam Entous interviewed him at length and revealed Lutsenko’s long-standing beef with Yovanovitch — and perhaps his motivation to cut some deals with Giuliani (and by extension, the U.S. government) over it:
As he alternated beverages — double Scotch, Coke, double Scotch, beer — he railed against his treatment by American diplomats, including Yovanovitch, who, he believed, had unjustly favored his rival, the head of a new anti-corruption bureau in Ukraine, and the cadre of young activists who scrutinized his every move. “I asked Masha” — Yovanovitch — “why me, who was in prison, who was a street commander in two revolutions?” he said. “I’m the bad guy and they are the brave soldiers?”During the past two years, Lutsenko, seeking to bolster his reputation and suspecting that Yovanovitch was attempting to undermine him, was eager to arrange high-profile meetings for himself in Washington, starting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. When he heard rumors that Yovanovitch and other U.S. officials were blocking the meetings, he grew increasingly resentful.
Lutsenko was also the source of the claim that Yovanovitch had provided him a list of Americans whom Ukraine could not charge — a “do not prosecute” list. The claim came in an interview with The Hill newspaper’s John Solomon, but Lutsenko later recanted it.
It is important to note Parnas is not a Trump administration official or in Trump’s employ, and it is theoretically possible he was freelancing here. But he had long been a conduit between Trump’s personal lawyer and top Ukrainians and can speak Russian. He also was talking about something only the U.S. government could provide: the removal of Yovanovitch. And he appeared to be well aware of the goal here; another handwritten note, apparently from Parnas, says, “Get Zalensky [sic] to Annouce [sic] that the Biden case will be Investigated.”
So here we have another quid pro quo that can very logically be connected to the Trump team. And we are learning about it as the impeachment trial is set to begin in the Senate.