After a rocky start to his time serving as Donald Trump’s Energy secretary, before which he was reportedly unaware of one of his department’s primary mandates, Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and two-time presidential candidate, had largely gone underground. His name bubbled up in the news cycle only on the occasion that he was reportedly thinking of quitting. But with the Ukraine scandal, that could all be changing. Politico reported that on Tuesday, a top Senate Democrat sent Perry a letter asking what, exactly, he had done in Ukraine while attending President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration earlier this year—particularly in light of a whistle-blower complaint that suggests Trump hinted at a quid pro quo arrangement in which he’d get dirt from the country on Joe Biden’s son. “President Trump’s phone call and the allegations in the whistleblower complaint raise serious questions about the messages that were communicated on behalf of President Trump to the government of Ukraine,” wrote Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As part of his campaign for the U.S. to sell its natural gas to Eastern Europe, Perry has traveled to Ukraine several times, including last month, when he tweeted a photo of his meeting with Zelensky. Back in May, he was sent to Kiev to represent the U.S. at Zelensky’s inauguration, reportedly replacing Vice President Mike Pence after Trump told Pence not to go. According to the whistle-blower report, it was “made clear” to U.S. officials that Trump would not meet with Zelensky himself until he saw how the leader “chose to act,” raising questions as to whether Perry was instructed to monitor Zelensky, or to pass along Trump’s desire to see Hunter Biden investigated.
Perry also “figures into” House Democrats’ subpoena of Rudy Giuliani, which requests all records pertaining to Perry’s trip to the inauguration, and “any communications the Energy Department may have had regarding two phone conversations between the Ukrainian leader and Trump,” per Politico. “He seems to have appeared and reappeared multiple times in the Ukrainian context, so he’s likely to have evidence that Congress would consider material,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, told Politico, predicting that Perry would likely be called to testify.
It’s quite possible that Perry played only a tangential role in the whole affair. After all, he wasn’t on the call in which Trump appeared to dangle favors in order to strong-arm his Ukrainian counterpart, and he may not have even been aware that his visit played a part in the exchange—if, indeed, it did. But his involvement in maintaining U.S.–Ukrainian relationships means his role as an envoy between Ukraine and the White House is something Democrats will take a closer look at. “It’s possible there’s nothing here, but it’s also possible that Rick Perry participated in, knowingly or unknowingly, a pressure campaign to have Ukraine investigate the president’s domestic political opponents,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, told Politico. “If I were Rick Perry, or anyone else in the administration, I’d be very careful about being honest right now.”
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