Rick Perry speaks at the Energy Department in 2018.

Rick Perry speaks at the Energy Department in 2018. Charles Watkins/Energy Department file photo

What Role Did Rick Perry Play in the Trump-Ukraine Incidents at the Heart of the Impeachment Inquiry?

The president said his energy secretary suggested he talk to the Ukrainian president. Perry, once Texas' governor, said his prodding was about energy and the economy — not the Bidens.

Hey, Texplainer — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was previously Texas' governor, has been mentioned in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. What role did Perry play in the incidents that have spurred an impeachment inquiry?

One of the greatest marvels of the Trump presidency is how, given his boisterous, 14-year run as governor of Texas, Rick Perry has been one of the few senior administration officials to mostly avoid controversy.

But nothing has quite engulfed so many players across the federal government as the sprawling controversy involving allegations that President Trump implicitly threatened to withhold military aid from the Ukrainian president if his government did not investigate the business activities of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

And now, Perry is an emerging — if only peripheral at this point — character in his capacity as U.S. Department of Energy secretary in this unfolding drama that only seems to escalate by the day.

What’s the deal with Perry and Ukraine?

Perry first surfaced in the controversy as a minor character in a CIA operative's whistleblower report released late last month. In the missive, the author alleged that Vice President Mike Pence was pulled from a May trip to the inauguration of newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The administration sent Perry in his place.

Given Perry's lower rank, the move was widely perceived as a slight for lack of Ukrainian cooperation in Trump's alleged quid pro quo.

Over the weekend, Axios reported that President Trump told House Republicans on a conference call that Perry was the instigator of his July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Perry confirmed in Lithuania that he encouraged the commander in chief to reach out to the Ukrainian leader — but not about investigating the Bidens.

“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,’” he said at a news conference, according to Politico.

Perry’s Department of Energy spokeswoman further elaborated that Perry pushed the president to discuss energy and economic issues with Zelensky, per the Associated Press.

The AP also reported over the weekend that Perry attempted to replace board members of a Ukrainian state gas company with a “slate of candidates [that included] a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.” The AP further reported that “it was widely interpreted that he wanted Micheal Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas” on the board. Perry’s alleged efforts paralleled with other American entreaties to advance the business interest of Trump allies, the AP reported. The AP report did not conclude that Perry’s efforts were coordinated with allies of Trump or Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

In Lithuania on Monday, Perry said he could not recall if he had recommended Bleyzer for the role, but said “he’s a really brilliant, capable businessman who I would recommend ... for a host of different things in Kiev...He knows the country. He’s from there. So, why not?”

Is Perry resigning?

Multiple outlets reported last week that Perry would leave his cabinet post by the end of the year.

Perry pushed back against the stories while in Lithuania.

“I’m here. I’m serving. They’ve been writing the story that I was leaving the Department of Energy for at least nine months now,” he said. “One of these days they'll probably get it right. But it’s not today. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next month.”

Will he leave soon? Perry’s exit has been an ongoing rumor for months, dating to at least six months ago. Regardless of when he leaves, he will have long outlasted nearly all of the prominent Trump officials who took office early in the first term.

What has Perry’s profile in the cabinet been? I haven’t heard much about him.

Perry came to the cabinet in hunt of redemption and a revamped profile after his disastrous 2012 presidential campaign. It was lost on almost no one that the appointment he received was the department he forgot to mention in a 2011 GOP presidential debate that effectively put an end to his campaign.

But for the most part, he stayed out of trouble both from the press and the president — a remarkable achievement in an administration racked with scandal, firings and resignations.

The most substantive burst of negative press he garnered came early. His Department of Energy was the first subject in Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis much wider examination of the hollowing out of in-house expertise within the federal government.

Otherwise, he’s mostly kept his head down and regularly commuted back and forth from Washington to Texas.

So what’s next?

Since the Ukraine scandal first broke last month, news outlets and U.S. House investigators have been the source of major revelations on a near-daily basis.

President Trump has exhibited an outsized fascination with Ukraine, chasing unfounded allegations about the business alliances of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and unproven conspiracy theories about the Democratic National Committee’s hacked server.

Thanks to geopolitics and geology, Ukraine has become something of a modern-day Casablanca. Sandwiched between energy-hungry western Europe and energy-rich Russia, a vast gas transmission network criss-crosses Ukraine’s terrain — as does the tension between Russia and the west.

As such, this country is a draw to a cast of usual suspects: diplomats, business executives and political operatives. And Rick Perry.

"What role did Rick Perry play in the Trump-Ukraine incidents at the heart of the impeachment inquiry?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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