WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's nominee to the Energy Department distanced himself Thursday from the House impeachment inquiry of the president, telling senators he does not have direct knowledge of efforts to overhaul the board of a Ukrainian government-owned energy firm.
Speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Dan Brouillette, the No. 2 at DOE, said he was aware Secretary Rick Perry met with people interested in changing the corporate structure of Naftogaz, the Ukrainian company.
"I am aware that the secretary met on occasion with individuals who were asking for assistance with the restructuring if you will or reorganization of the state-owned enterprise," Brouillette told Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., declining to list specific names.
"I was not" involved in those conversations, Brouillette said. "I am not aware of any conversations between the secretary and anyone at Naftogaz." Perry has met at least twice with company executives.
Links between the Trump administration and Naftogaz have become a point of interest in the House impeachment investigation. Brouillette does not appear to be directly tied with any administration effort to strong-arm the Ukrainian government into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid.
Perry, who is resigning his job as DOE secretary by the year's end, said in October he "absolutely" encouraged Trump to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in July to discuss energy issues, but not to pressure authorities there to investigate Biden or his son, Hunter.
Brouillette has been deputy secretary at DOE since 2017, when the Senate confirmed him 79-17.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., ranking member on the committee, said on Thursday he will vote for him.
A former executive with Ford Motor Co. and USAA, Brouillette on Thursday morning endorsed the idea of mining the Arctic to dig up minerals for electric batteries and touted the American emission reductions.
So-called "critical minerals," such as lithium and cobalt, are needed to build high-tech equipment like batteries.