As we know, Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden among other things, has led to an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.
But did you know that it’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s fault?
That, at least, is what Trump is reportedly telling congressional allies. On Friday, according to Axios, the President blamed Perry for the fact that the call with Zelensky ever occurred in the first place.
As it turns out, Perry has played a part in the unfolding Ukraine debacle, though the extent of his involvement in Trump’s pressure campaign is unclear. A series of reports this weekend from Axios, Politico and The Associated Press give us new details about his role. Here’s what we know.
‘Rick asked me to’ call Ukraine, Trump complained to House Republicans.
Per Axios, Trump was blunt on a conference call with House Republicans Friday. And within a day, three unnamed sources on the call spoke about it to the press.
“Not a lot of people know this but, I didn’t even want to make the call,” Trump reportedly told House Republicans in a conference call. “The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquefied natural gas] plant.”
The allegation followed reports last week, in the New York Times and Politico, that Perry was planning on resigning in the coming months. Perry denied those reports on Monday.
We’ve known for awhile that the energy secretary was at least on the periphery of this story. He led the administration’s delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration earlier this year. (The anonymous whistleblower’s complaint alleged that Perry took Pence’s place after Trump instructed Pence not to attend.) And as energy secretary, Perry has paid special attention to Ukraine’s energy sector. More on that later.
Trump’s Perry excuse rings hollow.
The House of Representatives didn’t launch an impeachment inquiry because Trump had a call with Ukraine’s newly elected President. Such calls are standard.
The problem was what Trump said. Specifically, the President leaned on Zelensky to pursue investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden and to look into Crowdstrike, the cybersecurity firm fired by the Democrats in 2016 to investigate the theft of Democratic emails, among other things. Texts from administration diplomats openly discussing clear quid pro quos make the call look even worse.
Despite Trump’s reported comments to House Republicans blaming Perry, there’s no mention of Perry in the memorandum of the Trump-Zelensky call that the White House released last month. Nor is there any mention of natural gas, which Trump said was Perry’s reason for pushing the call.
So, needless to say, Trump’s Perry excuse won’t get him out of hot water.
But Trump and Perry were, apparently, in touch about Ukraine.
Perry confirmed Monday that “absolutely I asked the President multiple times, ‘Mr. President, we think it is in the United States’ and in Ukraine’s best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there.’” Perry met with Ukraine’s energy minister today.
Perry’s got some newly public Ukraine issues of his own to deal with.
According to Axios, Trump mentioned on Friday’s conference call that “more of this will be coming out in the next few days.” And, well, it did.
In the weekend following the conference call, Politico and the Associated Press reported on Perry’s efforts to influence the board of the Ukrainian state-run natural gas company Naftogaz.
First, the specifics. Politico reported that Perry called on Ukrainian officials to expand its three-person supervisory board to include Americans — namely two Texans.
Then, the Associated Press reported that Perry left the impression with Ukrainians, after a meeting with Zelensky following his inauguration, that he wanted to replace the former Obama official already on the board, Amos Hochstein, with someone “reputable in Republican circles,” according to someone who was in the room and spoke to the AP.
In yet another meeting, Perry reportedly made clear that the Trump administration wanted the whole board replaced.
Perry’s friends with some Texans who happen to know a lot about natural gas.
Both Politico and the AP named two Texans that Perry reportedly pushed Ukraine to consider for Naftogaz’s board — Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-born Texas private equity firm CEO, and Robert Bensh, a Texan energy executive and occasional Energy Department adviser. The AP noted that Perry, as Texas governor, appointed Bleyzer to Texas’s Emerging Technology Fund in 2009. Then Bleyzer donated $30,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign.
“I would recommend him for a host of different things in Kyiv because he knows the country,” Perry told reporters Monday, referring to Bleyzer. Speaking hypothetically, Perry added, “It’d be remarkable if I didn’t say ‘Talk to Michael.’”
An Energy Department spokesperson told the AP, “What [Perry] did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company. That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”
The new reporting draws new attention to Perry’s previously scrutinized trip to Zelensky’s inauguration, as well as Perry’s May 23 meeting with two American diplomats that have turned out to be central to Trump’s pressure campaign, the Trump donor-turned-EU ambassador, Gordon Sondland, and the recently ousted special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.
Of course Rudy Giuliani is involved.
Trump’s lawyer provided a tantalizing statement to Politico about Perry’s reported efforts to install new board members at Naftogaz: “I may or may not know anything about it.”
Whether he does or not, the AP detailed an earlier, potentially related overture by two people sometimes described as “clients” (and other times, “fixers”) of his, the Ukrainian-American businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
If those names sound familiar, it’s because the New York Times reported in May that Parnas was helping Rudy dig up political dirt for Trump in Ukraine. Volker recently told Congress that he had breakfast with Giuliani and Parnas a week before Trump’s infamous call with Zelensky. And several House committees said last month that they’d like to speak to Parnas and Fruman about their work in Ukraine.
According to the AP, Parnas, Fruman and the big time GOP donor and oil magnate Harry Sargeant III approached a senior Naftogaz executive at a March conference in Texas with a plan.
The executive, Andrew Favorov, would replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev at the top of the company, and at the same time Favorov would enter into an agreement with the three Americans to accept 100 tanker shipments yearly of American natural gas in Ukraine. Sargeant reportedly claimed to Favorov that the President knew about the plan and supported it.
There was a problem. According to the AP, the Naftogaz bigwig almost immediately told his former business partner Dale W. Perry about what the trio had pitched to him. Dale Perry told an official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine — and then he told the AP. Notably, Dale Perry is managing partner at an existing Ukrainian energy importer, Energy Resources of Ukraine.
Favorov, Dale Perry recalled, interpreted the effort as a shakedown. He also recalled that Parnas said Trump planned to remove America’s ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. This was three months before her removal became public knowledge.
Two weeks after approaching Favorov at the conference, the AP reported, Parnas and Giuliani met with the Giuliani associate and former Trump campaign adviser Healy Baumgardner, again to discuss a gas pitch. The AP reported that Parnas again brought up Yovanovitch’s ouster.
Giuliani denied to the AP that he ever pursued a deal in Ukraine and claimed the meeting with Parnas and Baumgardner was actually about business in Uzbekistan, saying “I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously.” Baumgardner also denied she had business in Ukraine. Favorov declined to comment.
However, Parnas and Fruman’s lawyer John Dowd did comment. Naftogaz executives approached his clients about a deal, not the other way around, he asserted, adding, “It wasn’t a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”
Then, Dowd roped Rick Perry into the story. The plan, he said, “was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together.”