Rick Perry Draws Scrutiny Over Trump's Ukraine Call
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump says U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged him to call Ukraine's president in July. That phone call is now, of course, at the center of Congress' impeachment inquiry. And the revelation comes as Perry met with Ukraine's energy minister yesterday and is also traveling in Eastern Europe this week.
NPR's Jeff Brady is here. He's been looking into this. Good morning, Jeff.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So first, how did Rick Perry's name even come up in all this?
BRADY: Well, it wasn't coming up at first - until last Friday. That's when President Trump reportedly told Republican members of Congress that it was Perry's idea to make that call to Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. That's the call where Trump pushed for an investigation into the son of his political rival Joe Biden. Perry says, sure, he told Trump to call Zelenskiy, but he wanted them to talk about strengthening energy business ties between the two countries. Regarding the Biden case, here's what Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
(SOUNDBITE OF CBN NEWS BROADCAST)
RICK PERRY: As God is my witness, not once was a Biden name - not the former vice president, not his son - ever mentioned.
BRADY: And I should mention that this has been U.S. policy to encourage U.S. natural gas exports since the Obama administration. And that, of course, increases those ties with Ukraine.
GREENE: OK. So Perry's trying to explain this call, saying that Biden wasn't mentioned. And I mean, in his conversation; he's not talking about the call that the president made. But we have this Associated Press story now saying that Perry was actually trying to get a new management team at Ukraine's state oil and gas company. So is - are there suggestions here that Perry did something wrong?
BRADY: No one is accusing Perry of wrongdoing. The secretary says he's helping the state-controlled company Naftogaz fix its corruption problems so that U.S. companies will want to do business with it. And that's backed up by an American in the gas business in Ukraine. His name is Dale Perry - no relation to Rick Perry.
BRADY: He says there are other men connected to the Trump administration who he thinks are - were more concerned with advancing their own business than fixing corruption in Ukraine. And they're affiliated with Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Dale Perry told me about a meeting in Houston between a Naftogaz executive and these businessmen who wanted to ship U.S. natural gas to Ukraine. Perry says they complained the head of Naftogaz and the U.S. ambassador were getting in their way, so they wanted both of them replaced.
DALE PERRY: What they said was, therefore, we need somebody that's more - I think they use the term pro-business - in the position of the ambassador so that we can get a new management team at Naftogaz.
BRADY: And a few months later, that ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was removed. And in that July call between Trump and Zelenskiy, Trump called her, quote, "bad news."
GREENE: OK. This is all fascinating and also somewhat complicated.
BRADY: It is.
GREENE: So you mentioned these businessmen who wanted to ship natural gas to Ukraine. Tell me more about them and their possible role here.
BRADY: Yeah. Two of the men at that Houston meeting I think are the most interesting. And I haven't been able to reach one of them, Igor Fruman. But I have talked with a man named Lev Parnas. He's Ukrainian American. He's been helping Giuliani pursue some of these debunked conspiracies at the center of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry. He confirmed that he started his energy company to export U.S. gas to Ukraine, and he has no problem mixing his politics with his business. I asked Parnas about a $325,000 donation he made to a pro-Trump superPAC, and here's what he had to say.
LEV PARNAS: This is actually the first couple of times that I really started doing some bigger donations because I wanted to get notoriety for my energy company. And I thought it might be a great way to, you know, play with the big boys, as you call it.
BRADY: So Parnas made some mistakes with that contribution. He says it's a misunderstanding, but there's a complaint with the Federal Election Commission - no decision yet from that agency. But ultimately, none of this helped Parnas. He says it's really difficult for him to do business in Ukraine now.
GREENE: A lot to cover there. NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks so much, Jeff.
BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.