Energy Secretary Rick Perry “supported and encouraged” President Donald Trump in July to speak to the newly-elected Ukrainian President, but on energy matters, the Energy Department said Sunday.
Energy issues were not discussed during the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House. That call has become a key focus of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump.
“Secretary Perry absolutely supported and encouraged the President to speak to the new President of Ukraine to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development. He continues to believe that there is significant need for improved regional energy security – which is exactly why he is heading to Lithuania tonight to meet with nearly two dozen European energy leaders (including Ukraine) on these issues,” Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in a statement.
The White House-released transcript of the call revealed Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden and the activities of the former vice president’s son, Hunter, who had been on a board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
A separate whistleblower complaint alleged the President abused his official powers “to solicit interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 election, and that the White House took steps to cover it up. Trump has denied doing anything improper.
Trump told House Republicans on a conference call Friday that Perry had urged him to make the call to Ukraine to discuss a liquified natural gas project, The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing three federal officials. Axios initially reported the details of Trump’s comments on the Republican conference call on Saturday.
CNN previously reported that some text messages released by former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker showed that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was working to set up the July call with Zelensky.
Those texts also show that several other US diplomats, including Volker, were working to arrange the conversation.
Trump’s reported comments come as House Democrats have widened their impeachment inquiry into Trump, subpoenaing the White House on Friday for documents related to their investigation – a move dubbed “wasted time” by the White House – and requesting documents from Vice President Mike Pence. The New York Times and the Post also reported Friday that Perry plans to leave his post by December, though no official announcement has been made.
Perry has been described by some as being a key component of the US’ relationship with Ukraine because of the energy component. The secretary led the US delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration in May and and was one of what one official called the “three amigos” leading US relations with the country, having met at least three times with Zelensky.
In an interview with CBN News on Friday, Perry said, “as God is my witness,” that neither Joe or Hunter Biden’s name came up during conversations he had with Zelensky.
“I never heard, and I talked to the President about this, I had a conversation with – a phone call – with Rudy Giuliani about it. I’ve talked to the previous ambassador. I’ve talked to the current ambassador. I’ve talked to Kurt Volker, Gordan Sondland, the EU ambassador – every name that you’ve seen out in the media and not once, not once as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name – not the former vice president, not his son ever mentioned,” Perry said.
He added: “Corruption was talked about in the country but it was always a relatively vague term of, you know, the oligarchs and this and that and what have you.”
Perry is also scheduled to meet with Ukrainian officials this coming week “to develop enhanced interconnections between Poland and Ukraine,” the department announced Friday.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Jeremy Diamond, Greg Wallace, Adam Levine contributed to this report.