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Impeachment shatters Perry's peaceful exit from Trump Cabinet

Ari Natter, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

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.

Perry was at a July 10 meeting in which Sondland connected a White House meeting for Zelenskiy with proceeding with investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official overseeing Ukraine policy, told House investigators in prepared testimony released late last month.

And Perry held a June 18 meeting at the Energy Department on Ukraine policy where "how to address Mr. Giuliani's continued calls for a corruption investigation," was discussed, Christopher Anderson, a state department official, said in prepared remarks to House impeachment investigators Oct. 30.

 

Text messages from Volker, released as part of the impeachment investigation also shows that Perry wanted to put two U.S. energy industry veterans on the board of Naftogaz Ukraine's massive state-owned energy company.

Perry has declined impeachment investigators requests to turn over documents and also spurned a request from House impeachment investigators to testify, though his spokeswoman has said he may reconsider "if the Congress passes a resolution providing for an open and transparent process -- one that includes the participation of executive branch counsel."

"Secretary Perry stands by his previous statements with regard to Ukraine. Dating back to 2017, his anti-corruption and regional energy security message has been consistent from President Poroshenko to President Zelenskiy," spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement. "Dating back to 2017, his anti-corruption and regional energy security message has been consistent from President Poroshenko to President Zelenskiy."

Perry has told the Christian Broadcasting Network and others that he never heard anyone from the White House bring up the Bidens.

"Not once, as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name -- not the former vice president, not his son -- ever mentioned," Perry told CBN.

Perry, in an interview with a Texas radio station last month, dismissed the entire impeachment investigation as "politics."

"It's sad that that's where we find ourselves but the fact is there is nothing that the president has done, that Rudy Giuliani has done, that anybody I have worked with over there has done that I would consider not in the proper purview and done appropriately," he told Dallas-based KLIF.

Perry is said to enjoy a good rapport with the president, having avoided the missteps that led to the downfall of other figures in the administration, such as former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He has said his plans to resign by Dec. 1 have nothing to do with Ukraine.

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