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World

Ukraine To Investigate If Former U.S. Ambassador Was Tracked By Giuliani Associates

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today in Washington, history was made on Capitol Hill.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The opening of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history was full of formalities. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff read the articles of impeachment.

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SCHIFF: Donald J. Trump has abused the powers of the presidency in that, using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government - Ukraine - in the 2020 United States presidential election.

CORNISH: Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in as presiding officer, and he in turn administered the oath to U.S. senators.

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JOHN ROBERTS: Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?

KELLY: Well, just hours before, Ukraine announced an inquiry of its own into possible wrongdoing by Americans. In a statement, Ukraine's interior ministry said police were looking into whether people connected to President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani carried out illegal surveillance of former U.S. ambassador to Kyiv Marie Yovanovitch. Well, to help us understand what this is all about, we're joined by Matthew Kupfer. He is news editor for the English-language Kyiv Post, and he joins us from Kyiv. Welcome.

MATTHEW KUPFER: Hi. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So this is complicated. This inquiry, I gather, is based on text messages made public - text messages from Lev Parnas, who, to remind, is the Soviet-born businessman and associate of Giuliani. And these are specifically text messages between Parnas and a Republican activist and Trump donor, a man named Robert Hyde. Explain, Matthew Kupfer, what is in these texts that is of concern to Ukrainian authorities.

KUPFER: Well, basically, Robert Hyde is texting Parnas and saying that he has someone surveilling Ambassador Yovanovitch. He says he has someone inside the embassy. He seems to be following exactly where she is at the moment, how much security she has. Is she going to be moved to another location? It does, at some point, sounds like he's suggesting taking action against her to have her removed from office or potentially worse on their own.

KELLY: So is the scope of the inquiry as we understand it, then, that Ukrainian authorities are trying to figure out who exactly might have been carrying out the surveillance, what exactly was going on with Marie Yovanovitch and security surrounding her?

KUPFER: Well, I think we need to be a little careful into reading too much into this inquiry because, you know, Parnas said that he never believed this was actually happening, that he believes that Hyde is loony, that he's always drunk. And there is some indication that Hyde may not be a reliable source of this information. So I think we need to look at this also as Ukrainian law enforcement fulfilling kind of a formal obligation. I don't know how far the investigation will get because, of course, this happened in the past. Yovanovitch is no longer in Ukraine, and it's not entirely clear what they can actually do with this.

KELLY: You know, everyone I have interviewed in Ukraine since this whole saga began has been at pains to emphasize Ukraine doesn't want to be involved in the impeachment proceedings. They're trying to stay out of American politics. Does this inquiry change anything in that regard?

KUPFER: Not really. I think in their statement, they made it very clear that they try not to interfere in the affairs of other countries, including the U.S. But in this case, because perhaps Ukrainian law had been broken, they're going to open the investigation. To me, this doesn't really sound like political involvement. Again, it more sounds like a kind of law enforcement formality.

KELLY: Ukraine has also asked for FBI assistance in a separate investigation. This is the alleged hacking of Burisma's computer systems by Russia - Burisma, of course, being the natural gas company where Hunter Biden was on the board. What is happening with that?

KUPFER: Well, the investigation has been opened. I haven't seen much more beyond that. It's probably of more significance in a lot of ways to the U.S. because I don't think Russia can dig anything out of Burisma that can particularly affect Ukraine very much. But if they can get some kind of compromising information or information that could be framed as compromising to former Vice President Joe Biden, that could potentially affect the U.S. presidential election in 2020.

KELLY: Matthew Kupfer, thank you.

KUPFER: Thank you.

KELLY: He is news editor of the Kyiv Post. And some news about Robert Hyde, the Republican activist whose text messages are under scrutiny - NPR has confirmed that FBI agents paid a visit to his home and business today. We have not learned the reason. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.