WASHINGTON -- Energy Secretary Rick Perry was poised to cap off his political career as one of Donald Trump's longest serving Cabinet members and one who managed to avoid scandal. Now he may be remembered for something else: being one of the "three amigos" at the center of the House impeachment inquiry.
"Up until this Ukraine scandal he was one of Trump's most successful Cabinet members," said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute. "Now he's going out on a sour note that is ending with him being sucked into the impeachment investigation."
Perry, 69, an Air Force veteran and unsuccessful Republican candidate for president, hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing and maintains the neither he nor anyone else in the Trump administration has done anything improper. But he's refused requests by House investigators to testify about the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine.
That's because Perry has become like Woody Allen's omnipresent "Zelig" in the investigation. His name pops up throughout the witness testimonies released this week by Democrats, showing he was present or involved in key meetings and phone calls. Impeachment investigators are seeking to prove Trump pressured a new Ukrainian president to investigate political rivals in exchange for a White House audience and nearly $400 million in security aid.
It's an odd position for Perry, who served a record 14 years as governor of Texas. His previous brushes with notoriety included a stint on "Dancing With the Stars" and a wince-inducing debate performance in which he forget that the Energy Department was one of three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate during one of bids for the GOP presidential nomination.
Perry has repeatedly said he never heard anyone from the White House bring up former Vice President Joe Biden or his son, who Trump wanted Ukrainian officials to investigate.
But U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told impeachment investigators that he first heard the White House was interested in investigating Burisma, the gas company that employed Biden's son, from Perry, and other officials.
Sondland's testimony, and others released by Democrats, also shows Perry was present at or involved in key meetings and phone calls leading up to Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is now at the heart of a swift moving investigation that will become the focus of public hearings next week.
Sondland testified that Perry was one of what came to be known as the "three amigos" -- a trio deputized by the White House consisting of Sondland, Perry, and Kurt Volker, who served as U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, to back-channel administration overtures to Ukraine, to contact Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani at Trump's direction.
"There was an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy making with respect to Ukraine, one which included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani," William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, told House investigators, according to a transcript released Wednesday.