Perry defends urging Trump to make call in impeachment focus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Saturday that he asked President Donald Trump to make the phone call at the centre of the impeachment inquiry because it was “important” for the country’s energy needs and had nothing to do with former Vice-President Joe Biden or his son Hunter.

He also hardened his tone on the impeachment hearings, vowing not to testify before a congressional inquiry he said was “not only illegal, but improper.”

Perry told The Associated Press that he urged Trump to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to offer Ukraine “an alternative to Russian gas” and said he never once heard the word Biden or Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that once employed Biden’s son.

The impeachment inquiry is investigating whether Trump was withholding military aid unless Zelenskiy went public with a promise to investigate the Bidens.

Regarding Zelenskiy, Perry said he merely wished to deliver the same message he had to his predecessor.

“We had had enough conversations with him that we had felt comfortable that he actually was going to do what he said he was going to do when he ran for office, which was have that type of transparency, have that type of anti-corruption efforts,” Perry said in Dubai, where he was meeting local officials and attending an international youth robotics contest. “(I said) Mr. President, call this guy. It’s good for him and it’s good for us and we can go forward in helping supply gas, preferably U.S. gas, to Ukraine. Pretty straight-forward story.”

Perry recently announced that he will leave his job by the end of the year, citing the nation nearing its goal of energy independence. Perry, 69, a former Texas governor, has been energy secretary since March 2017, making him one of the longest-serving members of Trump’s Cabinet, which has seen huge turnover.

But the move comes as he’s been caught up in scrutiny over the role he played in the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

A top U.S. diplomat, William Taylor, has named administration officials who he said told him Trump had demanded of the Ukrainians an investigation of Burisma. The elder Biden is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

No evidence has emerged that Perry explicitly pressured Ukrainian officials to comply with Trump’s push. He has been subpoenaed for his involvement in the call but says he won’t co-operate.

“The United States Congress is not following both their own rules and precedent with this and until they do that, I don’t intend to be a participant in what I consider to be not only illegal but improper. They need to have a vote,” he said Saturday.

Earlier this month, in his first comments about speaking to Congress, Perry indicated he was “going to work with Congress and answer all their questions.”

Trump is trying to block members of his administration from testifying before lawmakers who are investigating whether Trump used the powers of his office for personal political aims in Ukraine.

Perry has acknowledged that he consulted on Ukraine matters with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani served as one of Trump’s main, back channel movers in the administration’s 2020-related political efforts in Ukraine, in talks bypassing official U.S. government channels.

The U.S. has indicted associates of Giuliani on allegations they illegally tried to funnel cash to Republican politicians, using a natural gas company as a front. It’s part of the tangle of business and political administration efforts in Ukraine that impeachment investigators are trying to unravel.

Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it was Perry who had prompted the July phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favour” regarding Biden, according to an AP source familiar with the president’s remarks.

But Perry said he didn’t feel he was being set up as the fall guy.

“I don’t consider President Trump trying to put the blame on me, I consider President Trump to be telling the truth. I didn’t ask him to do a favour,” he said. “I asked the president to make the call.”

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