It was reported recently that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry will be leaving the Trump administration by year's end. Many people responded to this news with some version of "Oh, yeah, Rick Perry, I forgot about him." Perry had managed to avoid the fate of many Trump appointees who departed after being disgraced by their own petty corruption, or falling into disfavor and being sacked after a vigorous public humiliation on the president's Twitter feed. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been busy.
And, as a stunning new article from the Associated Press reveals, Perry has been rather active in Ukraine, Paul Waldman wrote in an article for The Washington Post.
It's a complicated story involving a bunch of different characters, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president's "lawyer." The most newsworthy part is that Perry reportedly urged the Ukrainian government to fire the board of its state-owned gas company, Naftogaz, and install on the board some Americans who had given large donations to the Republican Party – in apparent furtherance of their interests and those of some other large GOP donors who happen to be Giuliani's clients.
"Feel free to read that again. Then remember that the Republican line is that all the pressure being put on the Ukrainians is because President Trump and his administration are so passionately opposed to corruption," the author said.
Here is an extremely brief synopsis. Giuliani has two clients, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Soviet-born real estate entrepreneurs from Florida who are in partnership with an oil magnate named Harry Sargeant III; they're trying to get a deal to import liquefied natural gas to Ukraine. All have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans, and while Giuliani was running around Ukraine trying to gin up an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the three were trying to get the Naftogaz CEO removed so that an executive more friendly to their own ambitions to sell liquefied natural gas to Ukraine could be installed.
The AP reports that Sargeant reportedly told this Ukrainian executive "that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president's full support." The executive "perceived it to be a shakedown." At the same time, Parnas was going around telling people that the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, was about to be removed because she wasn't friendly enough to their business interests. Months later, Trump did indeed recall Yovanovich from her post. "The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced," Giuliani told reporters. "I did play a role in that."
Here's where Rick Perry comes in, on his own trip to Ukraine.
A second meeting during the trip, at a Kyiv hotel, included Ukrainian officials and energy sector people. There, Perry made clear that the Trump administration wanted to see the entire Naftogaz supervisory board replaced, according to a person who attended both meetings. Perry again referenced the list of advisers that he had given [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky, and it was widely interpreted that he wanted Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas, to join the newly formed board, the person said. Also on the list was Robert Bensh, another Texan who frequently works in Ukraine, the Energy Department confirmed.
"Bleyzer is also a big Republican donor. So what we appear to have here is: Some clients of Giuliani want to change the leadership of the Ukrainian state gas company so it will be more amenable to them making money, and the secretary of energy tries to get the board of that company fired so that some of his own buddies can be installed – surely in furtherance of their own financial interests."
"We should note at this point that the Energy Department says Perry was merely encouraging Ukraine to become a welcoming environment for American business, which is not an uncommon thing for American officials to do," Waldman wrote.
But that's rather different from strong-arming a foreign government – one unusually dependent on the United States at this point in its history – to hire some of your party's donors.
"And I'm sure that when Perry leaves office, he'll be given positions on the boards of a half-dozen fossil fuel companies grateful for the service he has provided."
According to the author, the natural takeaway from this story is that the Trump administration is spectacularly corrupt, which isn't exactly news. "But we should also spare a thought for Ukraine and its government. They're trying to hold off Russia, their much more powerful and hostile neighbor, while the country that they hope will protect them keeps trying to shake them down. We'll send you those missiles if you investigate Trump's political opponent. We'll be there for you if you put a few of our guys on the board of your natural gas company."
In other words, a country that's been held back by corruption now wants to do something about it, yet in comes the American government with requests that they be more corrupt if doing so will help President Trump and the GOP. It's a cruel and tragic irony.