A New Figure in the Ukraine Scandal Worked for a Mysterious Chinese Trump Donor

Robert Hyde introduced this donor to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Hyde for Congress/Facebook

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Since Donald Trump’s election, Robert F. Hyde, a former landscape company owner and the latest oddball figure to enter the Trump-Ukraine scandal, has attempted to ride the Trump presidency into a new career as a lobbyist, public affairs operative, and all-around GOP player. A Marine veteran and Trump mega-fan who is currently running for Congress in Connecticut, he has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Trump and a bevy of Republican candidates and entities. His largesse has earned him invites to the White House (for a bowling night) and exclusive Republican events. A fixture at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel and Mar-a-Lago club, Hyde has collected and posted scores of photos of himself mingling with Republican luminaries, including Trump and his adult children, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and many others.

Hyde, now 40, remained mostly a wannabe, though he managed to hook up with Lev Parnas, the now-indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, and apparently tried to become part of the Giuliani operation in Ukraine that targeted US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, as it sought dirt on Joe Biden to help Trump. But as Hyde endeavored to leverage his political contributions into access and influence without great success, there was one real connection Hyde did make—and it was with a mysterious Chinese immigrant named Cheng Gao who donated almost a quarter of a million dollars to Trump and the GOP and who also sought a place in Trumpworld. 

Last March, Mother Jones revealed Gao’s curious backstory. Gao, who contributed $237,000 to the Trump campaign and other Republican groups, attended an inaugural dinner for Trump in January 2017. He has identified himself as a “Buddhist artist” who lives in New York City. But Gao only recently relocated to the United States from China, and he and and his wife, Qingqing Qiu, moved into an apartment in Trump Tower several months after Trump entered the White House. It is unclear how Gao amassed his wealth. Several businesses linked to Gao and Qiu showed little sign of activity.

Qiu has an interesting history. She once worked at a center in China founded by her well-connected mother, Wang Ping. According to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Wang started her career in academia—earning a master’s degree in politics from the University of Maryland and serving as a visiting scholar at the European Union’s agricultural division—and then held positions in the International Department of the [Chinese Communist Party], at the Hong Kong investment and brokerage firm BNP Paribas Peregrine, and at the Beijing office of the law firm Cha & Cha.” One mission of the international department of China’s Communist Party has been described by experts as promoting Chinese influence in the West. 

Gao moved to the United States from China shortly before starting his career as a big-dollar donor to Republicans. That raised an obvious question: Were his donations legit? It is legal for green-card holders—foreigners who have permanent residence status—to donate to American political candidates and committees; foreign nationals who have not obtained this status are prohibited from giving money to candidates. Gao and Qiu refused to answer questions from Mother Jones, including queries about Gao’s immigration status.

Hyde, too, was not upfront about Gao. Mother Jones contacted him after discovering a 2018 photo of him with Gao on Gao’s Instagram feed:

We asked Hyde about his connection to Gao, and if he knew anything about Gao’s contributions to Trump and the GOP. Hyde insisted that he barely knew Gao and possessed no information about him. He claimed he had merely once shared a car with Gao on a ride to Mar-a-Lago. 

Yet on a financial disclosure form Hyde filed last year in connection with his long-shot congressional bid, Hyde noted that he has been a public relations consultant for Gao. And a former business associate of Hyde tells Mother Jones that Hyde met Gao at a Trump fundraiser in New York City during the campaign. So it appears that Hyde, for some reason, was concealing his relationship with Gao. (Hyde did not respond to a Mother Jones interview request on Tuesday.)

But in November, Hyde told the world about his tie to Gao. Hyde posted a video on his Twitter feed showing how in April 2019 he managed to introduce Gao to Trump at Mar-a-Lago, noting that Gao had become a member at the club under Hyde’s sponsorship. In the clip, Hyde orchestrates a handshake between Gao and Trump. 

There are still no answers to key questions about Gao. And the release this week of documents provided by Parnas to the House Intelligence Committee—which includes text messages from last March in which Hyde, using tough-guy language, appears to inform Parnas that he is secretly monitoring Yovanovitch—has raised new questions about Giuliani’s shenanigans in Ukraine and about Hyde. Was Hyde truly involved in underhanded operations in Ukraine that targeted the US ambassador there? Did he play any other role in Giuliani’s and Parnas’ schemes? These are matters that may even be relevant to the impeachment trial of Trump that is about to commence in the Senate. (On his campaign Twitter account, Hyde claimed that his text messages to Parnas were just an exchange with “some dweeb we were playing.”)

In May, not long after he scored that Trump handshake for Gao, Hyde was taken into police custody at the Trump National Doral in Miami and involuntarily confined to a medical facility. At the time, Hyde was apparently undergoing a paranoid episode and told the police that the Secret Service and a hit man were after him and that painters and landscapers at the resort were also plotting against him. Hyde, according to a police report, said to the cops that “e-mails he sent…may have placed his life in jeopardy.” (The report did not note the subject of the emails.) The night before this incident, Hyde sent Mother Jones a long, rambling text message in which he boasted of his role in helping Trump during the 2016 campaign and implied that his life was at risk. Hyde noted, “I paid alot to Facebook for boosting ads for the Trump campaign day one. One add the day of the election went to 26.2 million people.” He insisted, “Never in a million years would I collude with Russians!! I love my country.” And he wrote, “If something was to happen to me, connect the dots.”

With Hyde, the riddle is, are there really dots? Or does Hyde just want there to be?

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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