Dispatch December 11, 2019

Rick Perry’s Under-the-Radar Role in the Ukraine Scandal

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, one of the highest-ranking participants in the Ukraine scandal, has so far managed to escape significant scrutiny through the impeachment inquiry. But while he may not be as much of a lighting rod as Mulvaney, Giuliani, or Trump himself is, he nonetheless deserves a closer look.

Perry, who left his post on December 1st, 2019, has been central to many aspects of Trump’s extortion campaign against Ukraine and its president Volodymr Zelensky, and has even allegedly sought to pressure Zelensky himself (though Perry has denied this).

Perry reportedly “pushed” Zelensky to provide one of Perry’s Texas political backers with a lucrative spot on the board of a natural gas company. At the same time, Giuliani’s purported associates Parnas and Fruman were allegedly engaged in a similar effort to replace executives at the company for their reported benefit.    

  • While in Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration, Perry reportedly suggested “the names of Americans the new Ukrainian government might want to advise and oversee” Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state-owned gas company. Perry reportedly named “two Texas-based investors” as potential supervisory board replacements for Amos Hochstein, a former Obama administration official who was appointed to the board by the Trump administration.
    • An Energy Department spokeswoman confirmed that Perry recommended names “at the request of Mr. Zelensky’s administration,” but “did not recommend these individuals be placed on any board.”
  • Having an American presence on the Naftogaz board was part of a package of reforms that were put in place to combat corruption in Ukraine’s natural gas industry that went into effect in 2017. Hochstein was the first American to hold a position on the board.
  • Perry’s efforts would have benefited one of his political supporters.
    • One of the men Perry was advocating for was “his longtime political backer” Michael Bleyzer, who later “secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government.” Bleyzer has denied receiving any help from Perry regarding this deal.
  • Perry’s effort to change the Naftogaz board mirrored a similar effort by Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both of whom have since been arrested and indicted on unrelated charges (the men have pleaded not guilty).
    • Parnas and Fruman, meanwhile, were allegedly trying to replace a senior Naftogaz official “with someone who would be more beneficial to their own business interests.”
    • No reporting has yet connected these two efforts.

Perry was reportedly the first of the “three amigos” to reach out to Giuliani, who was allegedly spearheading the Ukrainian extortion effort on behalf of Trump.

  • The “three amigos” is what Perry, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker called themselves as they appeared to work outside the normal diplomatic channels to impact U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
  • In his testimony, former top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor noted that Perry was the first to open the “irregular channel” of communication with Giuliani.
  • Sondland confirmed this, noting that Perry was the first to call Giuliani “given his prior relationship” with him, as Perry endorsed Giuliani’s presidential campaign bid in 2008.
  • In an October 2019 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Perry stated that he reached out to Giuliani in the spring of 2019 “at President Trump’s direction to address Mr. Trump’s concerns about alleged Ukrainian corruption.”
  • On a phone call, which Perry claimed he made “at Mr. Trump’s direction,” Giuliani and Perry discussed “concerns about Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election” (Giuliani confirmed the call.) Perry has denied involvement in any phone call where Biden or Burisma were mentioned.
    • Perry has strongly disputed Sondland’s testimony, including the details of Sondland’s testimony mentioned above.

 Perry was reportedly kept “in the loop” about Trump’s extortion campaign, and he attended a critical July 10 White House meeting between U.S. and Ukrainian officials where, according to Sondland, Sondland was explicit about what Trump wanted.

  • According to Sondland’s testimony, Perry knew that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and Burisma.
  • Sondland testified he made it clear that Giuliani told the three amigos that Trump wanted Zelensky to make a public statement about investigating the Bidens and Burisma. Sondland stated, “Everyone was in the loop. […] It was no secret.”
    • Sondland also claimed/testified that Perry, Volker, and Sondland only communicated with Giuliani at the “express direction” of Trump.
  • Taylor testified that on June 28th, he, Sondland, Perry, and Volker were preparing for a call with Zelensky when Sondland “said that he wanted to make sure no one was transcribing or monitoring” the call. According to Taylor, Volker said that he “planned to be explicit with President Zelensky in a one-on-one meeting in Toronto on July 2nd about what President Zelensky should do to get the meeting in the White House.” Taylor went on to say that, “Volker noted he would relay that President Trump wanted to see rule of law, transparency, but also, specifically, cooperation on investigations to get to the bottom of things.”
  • Sondland stated that he emailed Perry on July 19 telling him that Zelensky would promise Trump he would “turn over every stone” in these investigations, and that Perry reportedly replied to the email.
    • Subsequently, the White House set up the July 25th call where Trump sought to extort Zelensky to interfere in the 2020 elections.
  • On July 10, Perry attended a White House meeting in then-National Security Adviser John Bolton’s office with two Ukrainian officials and Bolton, Sondland, Volker, Hill, and Vindman.
    • During the meeting, Sondland allegedly “went off script” to press the Ukrainians about the investigations that Trump wanted into Burisma. This is reported to have“alarmed” Bolton, who cut the meeting short.
    • According to testimony, after Bolton ended the first meeting, Sondland took the Ukrainian officials to a separate room where, according to Hill and Vindman, Sondland continued to pressure the Ukrainian officials to investigate Burisma. In his testimony, Sondland confirmed that a second meeting was held, but said he did not recall pressuring the Ukrainian officials about the investigations.
  • According to Sondland, Perry was the one who suggested the second, smaller meeting, though other witnesses have stated that “Perry left almost immediately” from the second meeting.
    • However, according to Fiona Hill and Lt. Col. Vindman, Perry’s chief of staff, Brian McCormack, stayed for the duration of the meeting, including the period in which Sondland allegedly pressed the Ukrainians to announce the investigations. McCormack has also refused to testify.
  • Perry has denied any involvement in conversations about the Bidens and has strongly disputed Sondland’s testimony, including the details of Sondland’s testimony mentioned above.
    • A DOE spokesperson responded to Sondland’s testimony by saying that it “misrepresented both Secretary Perry’s interaction with Giuliani and the direction the Secretary received from President Trump.” The spokesperson went on to claim that Perry only spoke to Giuliani “once at the President’s request” and that Perry was not on any phone call where Biden or Burisma were mentioned.
    • Notably, this statement may leave open questions about whether Perry was involved in discussions about “investigations” or “corruption” which appear to have been the code words used by Trump officials to discuss the extortion scheme.