A former National Security Council official testified last month that Energy Secretary Rick Perry didn’t discuss anything inappropriate during a July 10 White House meeting with Ukrainians, though remarks from U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland raised alarm bells among other senior officials.
Perry stuck to the “usual talking points” on broadly addressing corruption in Ukraine’s energy sector at the meeting in former national security adviser John Bolton’s office, until Sondland interrupted to mention conditions that Ukraine would have to meet to win a White House meeting between the two presidents, according to the Oct. 14 testimony of former NSC official Fiona Hill that was made public on Friday.
“Secretary Perry had been talking at great length about [the] energy sector and corruption. And at no point did I think that anything Secretary Perry said referred to any of these issues that are under discussion today,” Hill told congressional investigators. “Secretary Perry was having one, kind of, one set of discussions and that, clearly, Ambassador Sondland seemed to be having a different one.”
Both Hill and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the NSC staffer overseeing Ukraine policy, said Perry did not participate for long in a subsequent meeting, which Sondland convened after Bolton abruptly shut down the first meeting. That happened, Hill said, after Sondland said President Donald Trump would meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once the country agreed to “go forward with investigations,” specifically into Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that employed Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. They said Perry walked downstairs to the second meeting with the group but left soon after for another engagement, though his chief of staff Brian McCormack remained for the session.
Neither Perry, Sondland, nor then-special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker were on the original invite list for the meeting, and Hill said it was unusual for them to be present at an NSC-led meeting. But Volker and Sondland insisted that they attend, Hill said, and the NSC then invited Perry to create “an opportunity for coordination that we obviously sorely needed at that point.”
The day after those White House meetings, Hill convened a meeting with Wells Griffith, the senior director for international energy and environment at the NSC and a former DOE staffer, and NSC lawyer John Eisenberg to discuss the events. Both Hill and Griffith agreed Perry had not said anything inappropriate during the meetings nor indicated he planned to pursue any of the investigations into the effort to dig up political dirt on the Bidens that lie at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, according to Hill.
Neither Perry nor his closest aides have cooperated in the impeachment inquiry. Perry, who will leave his post on Dec. 1, has so far defied a congressional subpoena to provide information and did not show up for a scheduled deposition this week, though he has expressed potential openness to testifying in a public setting.
The Energy Department declined to comment.
The testimony appears to back up Perry’s assertion that he only discussed corruption broadly in the context of Ukraine. He’s also maintained he never heard the names of either Biden mentioned in the course of either conversation.
However, the testimony that Perry was present at the first July 10 meeting when Sondland mentioned an agreement to condition a meeting of the two presidents on Ukraine announcing investigations could undercut his argument he never heard evidence the administration was seeking to pressure the Ukrainians to launch specific investigations.
“I’m extremely comfortable that not once did the president of the United States, or any of his administration or his team ever talk about with the intent there was some quid pro quo,” Perry said in an October interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Even though Perry was one of the administration’s “three amigos” on Ukraine with Sondland and Volker, Hill testified she feared Perry was not aware of all the administration’s activities.
“I was pretty concerned here in thinking that maybe Ambassador Sondland was not keeping Secretary Perry fully informed of what was going on either,” Hill testified.
She added that she saw Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on TV announcing his intent to travel to push for investigations in Ukraine “almost immediately” after the administration recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May. Sondland told Congress that Perry was the first to reach out to Giuliani after being told by Trump to do so following their return from the May inauguration of Zelensky.
Hill may also have been the first to suggest that Perry attend Zelensky’s inauguration. She said Vice President Mike Pence’s schedule may have made getting to Ukraine for the ceremony challenging.
“So I, you know, have no knowledge that [Pence] was actually ordered not to go, but it was going to be very difficult for him to go,” she said. “And I had already put forward … Secretary Perry, who I, you know, was always advocating to go and you know, go to things like this.”
Hill also noted that it was former State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein who flagged concerns to the NSC that Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two clients of Giuliani who have been charged with allegations of funneling illicit donations to the Trump campaign, were trying to pressure the advisory board of Ukraine’s state gas company Naftogaz. Hochstein is a member of that board, and a former Biden aide.
Hochstein “said that a number of Ukrainian officials had come to him very concerned that they were getting pressure from Giuliani and Giuliani associates and he also mentioned the names of Mr. Parnas and Fruman to basically start to open up investigations and also to change the composition of the Naftogaz board,” Hill said in her testimony.
She added: “It was part of what seemed to be a package of issues that he was pushing for, including what seemed to be the business interests of his own associates.”
Hochstein had also been in the Obama administration’s Energy Department, but also maintained “very close ties with Secretary Perry’s staff” and NSC officials, according to Hill. She said those officials were “very comfortable with him taking on this role” on the Naftogaz board.
Perry has faced allegations that he tried to convince Naftogaz officials to push out Hochstein and add two Texas energy executives to the board.
Perry was “negative” toward Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev and wanted to put two “senior U.S. energy people on an expanded board,” according to a text message Volker sent to William Taylor that was released as part of Volker’s testimony.
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