Energy Department Releases Documents Relating to Perry’s Ukraine Trip

WASHINGTON (CN) – Energy Department documents released Tuesday night offer the latest look into the roles senior administration officials, including former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were tapped to play on a White House-approved delegation to Ukraine last year.

The tranche obtained and published by the watchdog group American Oversight most notably features a briefing book for Secretary Perry, who announced his resignation two weeks after reports of the whistleblower complaint raising the alarm about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky first emerged in September. 

Energy Secretary Rick Perry testifies on May 9, 2019, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The former Texas governor initially bucked calls from three House committees seeking records exploring his possible connection to the White House delegation that was sent to Ukraine. The White House would eventually order the department to defy the requests.

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, are among the first detailed records of Perry’s planned role in Ukraine and shed light on the allegations underpinning Trump’s impeachment now unfolding in the Senate.

Perry was first drawn into the probe because he replaced Vice President Mike Pence on the inaugural trip to Ukraine. 

The documents released late Tuesday appear to also chronicle a series of meetings in Kyiv with myriad officials, including Zelensky, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Director of European affairs for the National Security Council Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, and Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis. 

Sam Buchan, a former Trump campaign staffer, and another lawmaker, Senator Rob Portman, R-OH, also are mentioned in the documents. The more than 100-pages detail plans for a meeting on May 20, 2019, with Johnson, Vindman and other U.S. officials, such as Brian McCormack, Perry’s then-chief of staff.

McCormack was also blocked from testifying to congressional investigators on the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees respectively. 

The records show discussion topics related to U.S. policy goals for Ukraine including reform of Ukraine’s energy sector. 

During the impeachment inquiry in the House, Perry was often mentioned by witnesses, including Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. 

Sondland described Perry as one part of the “Three Amigos” – a trifecta including Sondland, Perry and then-ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker, who testified before the House in November that he cringed at the moniker. 

The briefing book and other documents are partially redacted, including in areas where Perry’s key purpose and issues to address on the trip were described at length. 

But in an unredacted portion, the suggestions waterfall in a series of bulleted items to discuss: 

“If Ukraine fails to come to agreement with Russia for the purchase of natural gas, what contingency plans is the government putting in place to ensure sufficient gas for the winter?”

And: “How could the U.S. government provide assistance?” 

In another item, it was suggested that the U.S. administration would be willing to work with Zelensky if he was committed to making “the hard choices on corruption and good governance reforms.” 

Last October, Ukraine’s parliament passed a law unbundling Naftogaz, the state-run energy firm. It completed the unbundling in early January. 

It was a move, five years after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, that spurred talks in international circles of increased competition and energy transport for Ukraine to the European Union. 

Unbundling Naftogaz, as indicated in the briefing book, would make Ukraine more viable to European markets. 

“I encourage you to proceed with the unbundling of Naftogaz’s gas transmission system,” one point reads. “This is necessary for Ukraine’s commitment to European energy norms.”

Another point shows the U.S. was eager to guide Ukraine and suggested there be mention that possible disputes over unbundling Naftogaz would be a “waste of time” and that it could weaken Ukraine’s position in gas transit negotiations with competitor Gazprom, the Russian energy giant and owner of the soon-to-be-operational $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

Poised to drastically increase the amount of gas flowing into the EU, Trump slapped sanctions on the pipeline in December. 

While the White House dubbed it a security risk to Europe in light of Russia’s involvement, the EU panned the sanctions. World leaders such as Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel bristled at what she suggested was extraterritorial interference.

American Oversight Director Austin Evers said in a statement Tuesday that the release of the Energy Department materials was “just the first document to come out of Perry’s dealings with Ukraine,” and that more are expected to be released, Feb. 4 and March 16. 

The Energy Department did not immediately return request for comment Tuesday night.

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