Is President Trump throwing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry under the bus for the phone call to President Zelensky? That is not a question I thought I would be asking.
Just three days ago I wrote that House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings included Perry’s records of his contacts with Zelensky in a subpoena. Axios is reporting that Trump was on a conference call with House members Friday and offered up a new twist – he didn’t even want to make the call to Zelensky but Perry asked him to do so.
Per the sources, Trump rattled off the same things he has been saying publicly — that his call with Zelensky was “perfect” and he did nothing wrong.
But he then threw Perry into the mix and said something to the effect of: “Not a lot of people know this but, I didn’t even want to make the call. The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquified natural gas] plant,” one source said, recalling the president’s comments. 2 other sources confirmed the first source’s recollection.
Is Trump throwing Perry under the bus to deflect attention away from himself? It’s unclear at this point because the story comes from unnamed sources. How many times have we seen reporting about Trump from anti-Trump sources and later found the reporting to be incorrect? It happens consistently and it has made Trump supporters very cynical about these stories. You can see in the reporting that Trump’s quote from the call is described as “something to the effect of” which means it isn’t a specific quote. So, here we are again. The press is running with a story that is unflattering to President Trump but not naming names.
According to Axios, President Trump went on to say, “more of this will be coming out in the next few days”. What is that a reference to? Perry said he will cooperate with the committee and answer any questions they may have for him. Is Trump taking that as a show of disloyalty? Perry has been a steadfast member of Trump’s cabinet and not given the president a reason to distrust him.
As the Axios reporting states, the text messages released last week show that Rudy Guiliani was pushing for a phone call between Trump and Zelensky but there is absolutely no mention of Rick Perry doing so or arranging for the phone call to happen.
Perry is Secretary of Energy and it is his job to talk to foreign leaders about energy. Zelensky expressed interest in buying American oil. He mentioned working with the U.S. toward his country’s energy independence, which is exactly what U.S. policy is – to encourage Ukraine to lessen dependence on Russia for its energy needs. Ukraine buys American coal. According to the memo released by the White House of the phone call, Perry’s name was not even mentioned and neither was liquified natural gas (LNG).
As I’ve previously written, Perry led a delegation to Ukraine in May for the inauguration of President Zelensky. He was asked to do so by the president, substituting Perry for Vice-President Pence. Perry says that neither Biden or his son Hunter came up in conversation during that trip.
In May, Perry led the American delegation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration in the place of Vice President Pence, and congressional Democrats have begun to examine the trip in light of the ongoing impeachment inquiry focused on Ukraine. However, no evidence has emerged that Perry participated in the effort to pressure Ukranian officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
It would be well within Perry’s job description to encourage communication between President Trump and President Zelensky to establish a friendly relationship that would benefit the American energy industry. There is no indication that Perry had anything to do with anything out of bounds.
Politico’s reporting brings out an interesting little tidbit I hadn’t seen before on another person from Biden’s universe who is on the board of Naftogaz and now works for an American LNG company. Naftogaz is the Ukrainian national oil and gas company.
Perry also called for shaking up Naftogaz to help it cut its reliance on energy supplies from Russia and open itself up for more investment from the U.S., people familiar with the discussions told POLITICO.
Specifically, Perry pushed Naftogaz to expand its supervisory board — a three-person entity that now includes Amos Hochstein, a former Biden aide and State Department energy official currently working for the U.S. liquefied natural gas company Tellurian. The other two members are Bruno Lescoeur, a former executive in charge of international affairs at the French energy company Engie, and Clare Spottiswoode, director of London-based advisory Gas Strategies.
Perry “didn’t feel like the board of Naftogaz was sufficiently high level and connected to global energy companies, so he suggested that they expand the board and bring in new higher-level, industry-connected people on an international basis, including some Americans,” said a second person familiar with the discussions.
It is surprising, given what information that is out now, to Texas Republicans that Trump would essentially “blame” Perry for the phone call and the kerfuffle that has occurred since then. At a time when Texas Republicans are fighting to keep the state as a red state, especially in presidential elections, this seems like an unforced error on the part of the president. Perry is still quite popular with loyal Texas Republican voters and he has done nothing while in Trump’s administration to cause any peeling away from him. There is nothing wrong with Perry encouraging Trump to talk with Zelensky. And there is no indication that Perry dictated what Trump said to him.
Perhaps Trump thought it a safe move, given the rumors that Perry will leave the administration by the end of the year. Perry’s departure has been talked about on a somewhat regular basis, though, since he joined the administration and it hasn’t been officially confirmed this time. Meanwhile, Texans are left scratching their heads and wondering exactly what is going on.