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Rick Perry redux: Heading back to Texas and into the headlines

Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in News & Features

"These guys weren't really carrying out diplomatic work," said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a member of the committee. "They were carrying out the president's dirty work, and it looks like they were trying to enrich either themselves or their friends."

In interviews, Perry has said that is entirely wrong. On the contrary, he said, his win-win diplomacy was intended to strengthen Ukraine's ability to resist Russia by reducing its dependence on Russian energy and replacing it with American liquefied natural gas.

"You have to have the rule of law; you must make sure that there's no corruption going on in your government if you expect Americans to come in to invest here and help your country get away from that Russian influence of their gas," Perry, in the Fox interview, said he told the Ukrainians. "That's been the story, day after day. Not once, not once was the name Burisma or the Bidens mentioned to me, not by the president, not by Rudy Giuliani and not by Gordon Sondland."

Perry told Fox that when he met with Trump about becoming energy secretary in December 2016, "He said, 'Perry, here's what I want you to do. I want you to do for American energy what you did for Texas.' I says, 'I got it, Mr. President.' And that's what we've done."

Perry led the American delegation to Zelenskiy's inauguration in May. The Associated Press reported in November that in a meeting on that trip, Perry provided the new president with a list of four people who could advise him on energy.

One of the four was Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-born longtime Perry political ally from Houston. In short order, the AP reported, Bleyzer and his partner Alex Cranberg, a Republican megadonor whom Perry in 2011 appointed to a six-year term on the University of Texas System Board of Regents, bid on and won a 50-year contract to drill for oil and gas at a government-owned site.

Castro called for an investigation into Perry's dealings in Ukraine.

"The appearance is a pay-to-play scheme," Castro said. "And it also mirrors closely what we saw in Texas -- the awarding of no-bid contracts for donors, big political checks given to the former governor a day or two after he awards huge contracts."

But Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, said, "Rick Perry seemed to be doing the kinds of things that Secretary Rick Perry would be expected to do.

"As all this political skulduggery was going on, he seems to have been working on promoting American business interests, including interests that were close to the Republican Party," Henson said.

"I think if you don't follow politics a lot that can sound pretty untoward and can often look pretty untoward, but it's not too far outside of the normal parameters of the job, and his ability to do that and his comfort and his background connections were probably among the reasons he was good for the job," Henson said. "Rick Perry comes back from Washington, D.C., with some pretty interesting war stories for his friends and maybe some for the semi-public but not with a lot of people saying, 'Well I can't believe he was involved in that.'"

In the estimation of Ray Sullivan, a former top Perry aide on both the campaign and governing side, "He's coming home stronger and in higher regard than when he left. He has a lot more expertise and connections in a part of the world economy that's important to Texas and I think will still be a highly in-demand Republican voice if he chooses to exercise it."

Stanford said that Perry's involvement with Ukraine, even amid an impeachment scandal, might benefit his short-term bottom line but not his place in history.

"Clearly this opened up international energy contacts for him. He's going to make a ton of money," Stanford said. "But his broader image is always going to be stained by this, and this will be the first line of his obituary."

On Aug. 19, 2014, Perry, nearing the end of his reign as governor and contemplating a second run for president, was booked on two felony counts of abuse of office.

Perry's alleged crime was vetoing funds for the state public corruption unit in the office of then-Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to try to force her to quit in the aftermath of her embarrassing drunken driving arrest.

The charges were ultimately dismissed, but his second presidential campaign never took off, and on Sept. 11, 2015, he became the first of a crowded field of GOP candidates to quit the race.

"I'm wishing he had the opportunity to have the stronger second shot at it, because he had a lot to show to Americans about what kind of chief executive of this country he could have been," said Deirdre Delisi, an Austin political consultant who has served as a campaign manager and chief of staff for Perry as governor, and as policy director for his 2012 presidential run. "But he didn't have that opportunity because of those bogus charges."

"I think he would have been a great president," Delisi said.

Sullivan said he doesn't think it was the indictment that did Perry in.

 

As a candidate, Sullivan said, "he performed very well in 2016. It was just that he was largely discounted by voters because of the 2012 experience and, of course, by the Trump effect, which impacted everybody."

"I doubt but never rule out another elective run," Sullivan said. "I don't think that will happen. But then with him, he's always underestimated."

In the Fox interview, Ed Henry asked Perry, "Are you at peace with the fact you're never going to be president?"

"Absolutely at peace," Perry replied. "Matter of fact, I'm kind of like, 'Thank you, Lord.' Knowing what I know today and having watched what I've seen this man put up with every day, it's kind of, 'Boy, thank you, Lord; it all worked out really well.' And actually it did from the standpoint of what I've been able to do.

"It's worked out, in my opinion, better than my plan ever was," Perry said.

His mistake in his oops moment, he said, was not in forgetting that the Energy Department was the third department he wanted to get rid of, but in ever wanting to eliminate what he now considers "the most fascinating, most capable and I think most important agency of government."

Perry told Henry about a Christian prophet who told him in 2011 when he was running for president that she had a vision of him in the Oval Office with his grandson.

"I processed that as I was going to be the president," said Perry, even though at the time he didn't have a grandson.

But, Perry said, on July Fourth his first grandson was born. He brought baby Griffin James Perry him with him to the Oval Office on the visit in October at which he presented Trump with the list of the flawed Old Testament kings.

The 2011 prophecy was fulfilled, if not exactly as Perry had first envisioned it.

"God's plan sometimes is not your plan," he said.

Perry's approach, saying that Obama was also God's chosen, is disarming, said John Fea, a historian at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and the author of "Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump."

But Fea noted that Perry's comments followed by a few days evangelist Franklin Graham saying, "It's almost a demonic power that is trying" to undermine the president.

Even in Perry's kinder, gentler framing, Fea said, "It's the arrogance of claiming that you know what God is doing. So to me the phrase 'Trump is the chosen one' has been placed there because he wants to restore America to its Christian roots, he wants to propagate godly values, he wants to turn America back to a Christian country, restore, renew, reclaim."

"So then I would ask, 'What was the purpose of Obama?'" Fea said.

"I went back and I Googled all the things that Rick Perry said about Obama over the years. He refused to shake his hands on the tarmac (in Austin). He blamed gays in the military on Obama's war on religion. He chose to run for the Republican nomination against Obama," Fea said.

(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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