New target: Rick Perry's contact with Zelensky called into question

The Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, finds himself in the crosshairs of the impeachment committee chairmen. House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings plans to include Perry’s records that relate to his contacts with Ukrainian President Zelensky in a subpoena for White House documents to be issued by the end of the week.

Who had Rick Perry in the pool of administration officials who will be dragged into Impeachmentpalooza? I’m a little surprised, if for no other reason than we so rarely hear or see anything about him.

Cummings and his committee are interested in looking into Perry’s attendance at Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20 and then a meeting with Zelensky three days later at the White House. The ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also got in on the action.

Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, similarly sent a letter to Perry on Tuesday asking him what instructions Trump gave him when the Cabinet official flew to Ukraine in May, as well as who asked Perry to go there in the first place. And three House committees on Monday issued a sweeping subpoena to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in part seeking documents related to Perry.

Rick Perry appears in the whistleblower’s complaint that lit the fire for Democrats to open impeachment inquiries against President Trump.

According to the complaint, the Energy Secretary and former Texas governor was sent in place of Vice President Mike Pence to lead a U.S. delegation at Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration in May.

U.S. government officials allegedly told the whistleblower that Trump instructed Pence to cancel his planned trip to Ukraine and it was “made clear” that Trump would not meet with Zelensky until he saw how Zelensky “chose to act” in office.

They sent Perry instead.

That is the only mention of Perry in the complaint. As Secretary of Energy, it isn’t like Perry was chosen as some random cabinet member to lead the American delegation in the absence of President Trump or Vice-President Pence. Perry and his department are willing to work with Congress and follow proper procedures. He has not said if he was or was not in on the July 25 phone call with Zelensky.

Perry says he was asked to go to the new Ukrainian president’s inauguration because he is “just such a darn good Cabinet member.” He was joking but it’s true. He hasn’t been involved in scandals or mentioned much at all since he became a member of the cabinet. He goes about his job with fanfare. He is non-controversial among others more flamboyant, which is the same style of leadership he used as Texas governor from 2000-2015. He’s confident and has a Texas swagger about him but has a healthy dose of humility. He’s a happy warrior, so to speak.

Meeting with the Ukraine leader is something that would normally fall in his job description. Ukraine buys American coal.

Ukraine, rich with its own natural gas reserves, does not import gas from the United States, unlike some Eastern European nations such as Poland and Lithuania. But it does take in and burn American coal — about 4.8 million tons of it in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Most of that U.S.-to-Ukraine-bound coal is of a special grade often used in manufacturing steel, a major industry in Ukraine. The United States is only one of a few coal-exporting countries that has that type of coal.

The country has its own coal reserves, but much of them are located in contested territory in eastern Ukraine. Facing costly imports from Russia, Ukraine has begun getting coal supplies from the United States, Australia, Kazakhstan, and others places in recent years, according to EIA.

In November, Perry touted a shipment of Pennsylvania coal to Ukraine as “just one example of America’s readiness and commitment to help diversify Europe’s energy markets.”

Perry is also actively working to oppose Nord Stream 2, a proposed gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. The United States and other countries oppose the pipeline as it will increase the EU’s dependence on Russia for energy needs. Perry has assured the Ukrainian government that President Trump will sign a bill to bring about sanctions against companies involved in the project.

“The United States Senate is going to pass a bill, the House is going to approve it, and it’s going to go to the president and he’s going to sign it,” Perry said.

It is not unheard of for the Secretary of Energy to get involved in foreign policy. Remember the godawful Iranian deal? Obama’s Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was a lead negotiator during that mess, along with Secretary of State John Kerry. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State, had to recuse himself due to his past career in the oil and gas industry so Perry stepped up. The main goal has been to tamp down Eastern Europe’s dependence on Russia for their energy needs.

As energy secretary, Perry has regularly traveled to Eastern Europe to promote the sale of U.S.-produced natural gas and coal. “I’ve had the opportunity to go into so many different countries to represent the United States, our energy opportunities,” Perry said Wednesday. “Ukraine is one of those.”

The committees can go down this particular rabbit hole if they want. It sure looks like a dry hole, though.