WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks at the Energy Policy Summit at the National Press Club, October 16, 2017 in...
Drew Angerer

Why Trump can’t blame Rick Perry for his latest scandal

Updated

When Donald Trump is in a jam, he instinctively looks for a few things. First, the president looks for allies who’ll defend him without regard for his culpability. Second, he looks for fixers who’ll help make the problem go away.

And third, he looks for a fall guy.

President Donald Trump told House Republicans Friday that he was urged by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to make the midsummer phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is now at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Trump suggested it was a call he didn’t even want to make, the sources said.

According to Axios’ report, the president told GOP lawmakers, “Not a lot of people know this but, I didn’t even want to make the call. The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to.” Another source said Trump added, in reference to Perry, “[M]ore of this will be coming out in the next few days.”

At a certain level, this is pretty amusing: Trump believes his call with Zelensky was perfect, appropriate, innocent, above board in every way, and should definitely be blamed on his Energy secretary.

But that’s just the start of the problem. It’s likely that Perry was among the administration officials who encouraged the president to reach out to his Ukrainian counterpart, but there’s nothing to suggest the Texas Republican told Trump to use the phone meeting to coerce Zelensky into helping Trump’s re-election campaign.

Even if Perry wrote the script for Trump – a bizarre idea, to be sure – it’s not as if the president can credibly argue, “I only committed impeachable acts because my subordinate recommended it.”

But given everything we know, even that’s overly generous. We know from the call summary released by the White House that Perry’s name did not come up during the Trump/Zelensky discussion, and the American president made no effort to bring up energy-related issues. Trump’s effort to leverage campaign aid from Ukraine wasn’t Perry’s idea; it was Trump’s.

But I was also interested in the idea that more information related to Perry and the scandal will be “coming out in the next few days.” Is that so.

The day after Trump’s comments to House Republicans, Politico published this report:

Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Ukraine’s president to root out corruption and pushed the new government for changes at its state-run oil and gas company, people familiar with his work said Friday – indications that he was more deeply involved than previously known in President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure officials in Kiev.

The people said they have no indication that Perry explicitly called on Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the issue that has spawned a House impeachment inquiry into Trump. But at the very least, they said, Perry played an active role in the Trump administration’s efforts to shape decisions by the newly elected government of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Among other changes, Perry pushed for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to expand its board to include Americans, two people familiar with the matter said. Two longtime energy executives based in Perry’s home state of Texas were among those under consideration for that role, one source familiar with the administration’s dealings with the company said.

What’s more, as Rachel noted on Friday night’s show, when lawmakers leading the impeachment inquiry demanded materials from Vice President Mike Pence last week, they also sought documents related to Perry and meetings the Energy secretary attended.

On Thursday, Politico also reported that Perry is expected to resign next month. That report came the day after the Energy secretary expressed a willingness to cooperate with congressional investigations.