He’s giving speeches, holding news conferences, tweeting and talking up the potential of U.S. natural gas exports.
Everything appears to be business as usual for Energy Secretary Rick Perry as he travels this week around Eastern Europe, even as Perry is becoming increasingly entangled in an impeachment inquiry focused on President Donald Trump and the administration’s interactions with officials from one of the region’s biggest countries, Ukraine.
Perry isn’t actually visiting Ukraine, the country at the center of a House impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump improperly pressured that country’s president into opening an investigation into his political rivals. But last weekend he arrived in Lithuania for a meeting of his own initiative, the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation. And Perry convened, according to his schedule, a meeting between Poland and Ukranian authorities designed to enhance cooperation between the two countries.
Perry’s role is being increasingly scrutinized in the growing furor over Trump’s actions. The energy secretary is not accused of wrongdoing and has not been directly subpoenaed by Congress.
But his activity is the subject of a number of requests for information from congressional Democrats. And while Perry said last week he will cooperate with Congress, the White House said it would not do so in a scathing eight-page letter Tuesday.
In Lithuania on Monday, Perry met with counterparts from Ukraine and Poland to underscore a memorandum of understanding signed last month between the three countries, meant to ease the way for U.S.-produced gas to be shipped to Poland and then piped into neighboring Ukraine.
The trilateral agreement along with other U.S. policies pushed under both the Trump and Obama administrations are designed to undermine the continent’s dependence on Russia for heating fuel and electricity.
“Greater energy security is a good thing for all the citizens of this region,” Perry said during a news conference afterward.
For Ukraine in particular, Perry suggested on Twitter that better gas infrastructure means that Ukraine may one day be able to export its own fuel, rather than relying on foreign suppliers for energy.
But once he started taking questions from reporters, Perry soon was peppered with questions about his conversations with Trump about Ukraine and his possible resignation.
Last week, Trump told House Republicans that he had made a July 25 call to Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, at Perry’s request to discuss a liquefied natural gas project. It was during that call that Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, according to a rough transcript of the call the White House released.
Perry acknowledged to reporters he “absolutely” asked Trump to call Zelensky — but only about energy issues.
“I asked the president multiple times — ‘Mr. President, we think it is in the United States and the Ukraine’s best interest, that you and the president of Ukraine have conversations, that you discuss the options that are there,’ Perry said.
Perry also brushed off reports last week from The Washington Post and others that he is planning to step down as energy secretary by the end of the year.
“The answer’s no. I’m here. I’m serving,” Perry said. “They’ve been writing this story that I was leaving the Department of Energy for at least nine months now. One of these days they’ll probably get it right. But it’s not today. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not next month.”
A day later in Latvia, Perry was back on message about the virtues of the potential for U.S. gas to loosen Russia’s grip on Ukraine and the rest of the region.
“What we’re offering is freedom of choice,” Perry said during a keynote address at a Central and Eastern European gas conference in Latvia. He continued: “We can liberate our allies everywhere, including right here in Europe … by offering it natural gas.”
And with that, Perry was off on the last leg of his European tour, leaving for Iceland.
But by the time he arrived, he was facing yet more questions in the impeachment probe after CNN reported that Trump called on Perry and a pair of State Department officials to go through his personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, in discussions regarding Ukraine.