Perry says he ‘absolutely’ asked Trump to call Ukraine president - but about energy, not Biden

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WASHINGTON - Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Monday acknowledged that he asked President Donald Trump “multiple times” to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy - but not about former Vice President Joe Biden, the topic that has caught Trump in an impeachment inquiry.

The former Texas governor said at a news conference in Lithuania that he encouraged Trump to speak to the Ukrainian leader about energy, according to CNN and Politico.

“Absolutely, I asked the president multiple times: ‘Mr. President, we think it is in the United States’ and in Ukraine’s best interest that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations and discuss the options that are there,’” he said . “So absolutely yes.”

His account appears to confirm an Axios report from Saturday that Trump told House Republicans that he called Zelenskiy at Perry’s urging to discuss liquefied natural gas.

Perry has indeed worked on issues related to liquefied natural gas in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, adding plausibility to the request. But Trump never brought up the topic on his call with Zelenskiy, according to rough transcript provided by the White House.

The insight from Perry nevertheless adds another layer to the growing Ukraine drama.

While Perry hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, the Texan has been thrust in recent days into the controversy surrounding Trump’s pressuring of Ukraine to investigate Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, over Biden’s son’s business dealings in the country.

The energy chief, who has generally avoided the spotlight in D.C., was given passing reference in the whistleblower complaint over Trump’s interactions with Ukraine because he subbed in for Vice President Mike Pence at Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May.

Democrats have requested documents involving Perry as part of their probes, and Perry has said he will comply with those inquiries.

The Texan’s relationship with Ukraine took on an another dimension late Sunday as Politico and The Associated Press reported that Perry urged Ukranian officials to put two Texas businessmen on the supervisory board of Naftogaz, a state-owned energy company, as part of a sweeping overhaul.

That push came as Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who spearheaded the Biden investigation, was also seeking the shape the Naftogaz board, though it’s unclear if those efforts were related, AP reported.

Perry on Monday denied that he pressured Ukrainian leaders to put anyone on Naftogaz’s board. He said he was merely making recommendations at the request of the Ukrainian government.

“The idea that the AP story basically said that we said, ‘You put these people on there,’ is just not correct,” he said, according to Politico. “That was a totally dreamed-up story, best I can tell. We gave recommendations at the request of the Ukrainian government and will continue to.”

AP reported Sunday that two of the individuals on Perry’s list were Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman who lives in Texas and who donated to Perry’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and Rob Bensh, a Houston energy executive with extensive experience in Ukraine.

The Energy Department confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Monday that Perry’s list also included Daniel Yergin, an internationally known energy expert who serves as chairman of IHS Markit, and Carlos Pascual, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Mexico.

The Energy Department disputed that Perry asked those individuals to be placed on any board, explaining instead that Perry offered them up as experts who could help Ukraine as the country revamps its energy sector.

“What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” said Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes. “That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Asked by phone about his inclusion on that list, Yergin told the Morning News: “I have no idea. I’ve never heard that.”

IHS Markit spokesman Jeff Marn followed up, reiterating that this was the first Yergin had heard of being on such a list and that “nobody had ever mentioned the prospect to him about joining a board.” He also noted that the point was moot, since Yergin doesn’t serve on corporate boards.

But Marn added that it’s “not surprising if somebody recommended him as an expert,” particularly since Yergin has served on an advisory board for Perry and several prior U.S. energy secretaries.

In Lithuania, Perry was apparently asked about Bleyzer, in particular. The energy chief said then that he couldn’t specifically remember whether or not he recommended his fellow Texan. But he said he wouldn’t hesitate to put in a good word on behalf of Bleyzer.

“He’s a really brilliant, capable businessman who I would recommend . for a host of different things in Kyiv,” Perry said at the news conference, per Politico. “He knows the country. He’s from there. So, why not?”

The scrutiny around Perry and Ukraine also came as multiple media outlets reported that the Texan will retire from his post as energy secretary by the end of the year. But Perry on Monday pushed back on that idea.

“I’m here. I’m serving,” he said, according to Politico. “They’ve been writing the story that I was leaving the Department of Energy for at least nine months now. One of these days they’ll probably get it right. But it’s not today. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next month.”

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©2019 The Dallas Morning News

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): PERRY

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