HARTFORD, Conn. -- Robert F. Hyde's carefully curated social media accounts tell the story of a man hovering close to the center of political power. There he is, next to President Trump in a gilded room at Mar-a-Lago on Easter weekend. Or beaming as he flanks Vice President Mike Pence. Or wearing sunglasses inside the Trump International Hotel in a selfie with Donald Trump Jr.
The 40-year-old from Simsbury -- now linked to investigations into the alleged harassment of the ambassador to Ukraine -- has a penchant for blustery talk and a pattern of erratic, unsettling behavior.
But over the past three years, he has fashioned an image of himself as a Republican high-roller. His hangouts were Trump properties in Washington and Florida, flashy places awash with well-connected lobbyists, party operatives, members of Congress, conservative media types and top administration officials.
Hyde, a longshot candidate for Congress from Connecticut's 5th District, is now an unlikely central character in the drama surrounding Trump's removal of Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Documents released by the House of Representatives include a series of menacing-sounding text exchanges in which Hyde claimed to be tracking the ambassador's movements in Kyiv.
Hyde has denied any ill-will, saying the WhatsApp messages with Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, should not be taken seriously.
"I was joking around,'' Hyde told The Courant in an interview Friday afternoon at the state Capitol Hartford. "That was it. ... I'm not in the business of hurting people.''
But texts released by House Democrats late Friday suggest Hyde was passing along to Parnas information about Yovanovitch that he received from another Trump supporter. In a rambling video Hyde posted Friday, he identified that man as Anthony de Caluwe.
"Are you kidding? Like I have anybody over in the Ukraine?" Hyde said. "I'm a landscaper from Simsbury, Connecticut that was trying to get into the government relations world...lobbying world, whatever you want to call it."
Hyde described de Caluwe as "some intel guy" and said he may have been trying to set Trump up. "I'm sure if I disappeared or died or they gag ordered me, they're going to use me as a smoking gun...like I had these Ukrainian ties,'' he said.
This week's headlines have brought notoriety to the obscure former Marine who appeared to be obsessed with Trump and the president's world of celebrity, wealth and power. The Ukrainian police, FBI and State Department are investigating the possible surveillance of Yovanovitch.