How Rick Perry waltzed past the impeachment probe
“The president has escaped accountability and so have all the president’s men. Secretary Perry has still major accounting to do about his activities in Ukraine,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, told POLITICO. “The Senate may have surrendered their constitutional responsibilities but the House of Representatives will not.”
But Raskin cautioned that Democrats haven’t yet charted a course on how to proceed with any Perry inquiries, and lawmakers face “a lot of strategic decisions to make about how to use our resources” following the conclusion of the Senate trial.
Perry, who departed the administration on Dec. 1, was one of the “three amigos,” along with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former special envoy Kurt Volker, who directed the administration’s outreach to Ukraine — and the former Texas governor was the only one of the three not to testify in the impeachment proceedings. Along with his former chief of staff, Brian McCormack, Perry defied a congressional subpoena and, until a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by American Oversight, had successfully resisted turning over a single document.
But the few dozen documents that have been released have so far revealed little about Perry’s role, especially since DOE sent most of the paperwork to the State Department for review and redacted much of the content from the documents it did publicly release. A final batch of documents will be released by DOE on March 16 and American Oversight has said it will seek the release of the the documents withheld by the State Department.
The Energy Department’s stonewalling kept Perry out of the spotlight while testimony from Sondland, Volker and former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch dragged the State Department into the picture, said America Oversight chief oversight counsel Molly Claflin. Since no one from DOE offered testimony, Perry drifted into the background, she added.
“The problem with investigating this administration is it’s like oversight whack-a-mole,” Claflin said. “Perry slipped through the cracks. He’s really capitalized on that.”
Government experts said the refusal of Perry and others in the administration to comply with congressional document requests and subpoenas was unprecedented, and could permanently weaken Congress’ ability to hold the executive branch accountable.
“The consequences of Trump’s blanket obstruction, should it become a precedent for the future, are sweeping,” said Douglas Kriner, a professor at Cornell University who co-authored the book “Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power.”
Meanwhile, Perry has settled back into Texas life and has rejoined the board of directors of Energy Transfer LP, the company that operates the Dakota Access pipeline, according to an SEC filing. He’s also returned to the political fold, offering up endorsements in Texas Republican primary contests and lending his Trump administration star power to GOP events across the country.
His upcoming attendance at a local GOP dinner in Gaston County, N.C. on Feb. 22 has helped boost ticket sales, according to county Republican Chairman Johnathan Fletcher.
“Everyone in Gaston County loves Trump,” Fletcher said. “Having someone from the Trump administration would be a huge draw, so he’s one of the ones we reached out to.”
Perry’s involvement with Ukraine is well known among the local Republicans, said Fletcher, and didn’t hurt his ability to draw a crowd.
“At this point, either people believe the whole thing [with Ukraine] is true and everyone’s guilty, or it’s another thing the Democrats have concocted,” Fletcher said.
Perry also continues to stick close to the Trump administration, serving as a surrogate for Trump at the Iowa caucuses Monday.
A spokesman for Perry did not respond to a request for comment.
The former Texas governor has repeatedly asserted that he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate corruption in the country’s energy sector, but never heard Trump or any administration official mention demands that the government investigate former Vice President Joe Biden or his son Hunter during their conversations with Ukraine. Perry has never made similar comments under oath or before Congress.
Congressional Democrats prioritized the testimony of officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney over Perry’s, though they have said they believe he has relevant information to their inquiries.
“What about the third amigo? Wouldn’t you like to know if the third amigo was in the loop?” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked Jan. 21 on the Senate floor. “Don’t you think the American people have a right to know what the third amigo knew about this scheme? I would like to know.”
At the same time, Parnas, the indicted associate of Giuliani, continues to make allegations about Perry. He told MSNBC last month that the president’s personal lawyer directed Perry to demand that Zelenksy announce investigations into the Bidens when he attended the new Ukrainian president’s inauguration.
Parnas’ lawyer reasserted his client’s direct knowledge of Perry’s activities in Ukraine in a letter Friday.
“Mr. Parnas would explain the conversation he overheard between Mr. Giuliani and then-Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry, who attended the inauguration in lieu of Vice President Pence, and the quid pro quo that Mr. Perry conveyed while there,” Parnas’ attorney Joseph Bondy wrote in a Friday letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Additional information on Perry is almost sure to come out. Bolton’s book, intended for release March 17, is expected to detail key White House meetings and conversations involving Perry.