Prove your humanity

By now you’ve probably heard about the Ukraine scandal and President Trump’s attempts to get foreign countries to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. This is, of course, the subject an impeachment inquiry which is embroiling Washington, DC.

One familiar name has popped up in this story is Energy Secretary Rick Perry. President Trump suggested a key phone call at the center of the scandal was Perry’s idea. Perry says he did tell his boss to call the newly elected Ukrainian president, but to talk energy, not politics. “Not once, as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name ever mentioned,” Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network in a recent interview. 

On the latest episode of our podcast Trump on Earth, we connect the dots between Perry and Ukraine with Jeff Brady, energy reporter for NPR.

Rick Perry has been served a subpoena in the House impeachment inquiry. And Democrats want him to turn over a bunch of documents connected to his and the administration’s work with Ukraine. They have set a deadline of Friday, October 20th. Perry hasn’t said yet if he will comply. Brady says he’s looked hard and has not found anyone who thinks that Rick Perry has done anything wrong. But he does know stuff. 

“I think the reason that he has emerged in all of this is because he was definitely working on the Ukraine issue, trying to develop that relationship between U.S. and Ukrainian business people,” Brady explains. “He was at a lot of these events that are emerging as important dates in this impeachment inquiry. Democrats want to know what he knows because they’re hoping that if they can get all of this information together, they can create an accurate picture of what really happened.”

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One of the things that the Democrats want to know, Brady says, is why President Trump sent Rick Perry in place of Mike Pence as the official U.S. representative at Volodymyr Zelensky’s May 2019 inauguration. 

“There are also reports that Trump wanted Perry and State Department officials to deal with his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, when Ukrainian President Zelenski was trying to get a meeting with Trump. And they want to know what Secretary Perry knows about that,” says Brady. 

There are also questions about another aspect of Perry’s involvement in Ukraine. Officials at Ukraine’s state-run natural gas company, Naftogaz, asked for the Energy Secretary’s recommendations for Americans to sit on their board. One, Michael Bleyzer, is a Ukrainian-American investor based in Houston who has given thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, including $10,000 to Perry’s inaugural fund. The other, Houston energy executive Robert Bensh, donated $1,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2017 (but also $250 to Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign). Brady says both seem like sound choices for advising Ukraine. And, Brady says, Perry’s office also suggested other non-political names like Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book called, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.

Brady says there are a lot of moving parts here. You can try to map it all out, but there are points on the map that are missing right now. 

“There’s missing information. And hopefully with the subpoenas, with these depositions that Democrats are conducting now in Congress, we’re gonna get a fuller picture,” says Brady. “And it’ll be interesting to see if Secretary Perry remains at the center in a way that he appears to be now.”

The Energy Department has kept a low profile under the Trump administration. There hasn’t been as much controversy as, say, with the EPA under Scott Pruitt or the Interior under Ryan Zinke. Brady says that part of the reason is because there aren’t a lot of regulatory rollback opportunities at the Department of Energy. But also it’s because of Perry himself, Brady says, because Perry is a guy who likes to get along with other people and work with Democrats in Congress. 

“I like to say that it’s been an unremarkable two years,” says Brady. “And in this administration, that’s pretty remarkable.” 

It was reported this week that Perry plans to resign from his position as Energy Secretary by the end of the year. 

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