Rick Perry, IT'S SHOWTIME! No, Not The Dancing Show, The Impeachment Show!
Welcome back to the shitshow! Those of you who logged off for the weekend managed to miss a news cycle where the entire country united in LOLing at Trump trying to pin his Ukraine fuckery on evil mastermind Rick "Ooops" Perry, after which we realized Trump was getting out in front of an Associated Press story about the secretary of Energy pressuring Ukraine into giving his buddies from Texas a controlling interest in Naftogaz, the state-owned natural gas company. Saturday night's #RickPerryMadeMeDoIt gave way to Sunday's RICK PERRY, CALL YOUR LAWYER! They always, always, always tell on themselves, although the AP is no doubt grateful for the publicity on its big scoop.
So, let's get you caught up! But first, it's probably helpful to keep in mind who wants what out of the US-Ukraine relationship. Here's a non-exhaustive list of the parties and their interests:
- Ukraine: With Russia breathing down their necks, the Ukrainians want most of all to remain under the US security umbrella. They are dependent on US aid, but they would very much like not to become embroiled in American domestic politics;
- United States: In a normal world, the US aims to counter Putin's anti-democratic expansion into the Western space, not only to protect our allies, but because we benefit from a democratic, rules-based international system with us at the head. We also have an economic interest in exporting our natural gas to Ukraine (environmental interests aside);
- Trump: The Malignant Narcissist-in-Chief, for whom the national interest is entirely secondary, wants Ukraine's help to smear Joe Biden and to somehow make him a legitimate president by showing that Russian interference didn't put him over the top in 2016 -- or if it did, then it is somehow canceled out by Ukrainian interference for Hillary Clinton;
- Giuliani and the chucklefucks: Rudy Giuliani and his accomplices want to help Trump with his goals and make themselves fabulously wealthy in the process. America's national interests do not factor in for them.
"Not a lot of people know this but, I didn't even want to make the call." Trump is quoted as saying. "The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquefied natural gas] plant." At which point, the entire internet collapsed in a fit of giggles at the prospect of Trump trying to pin his fuckup on this guy.
But like Rudy Giuliani with State, Trump's "defense" had the unintended effect of dragging a whole separate government agency into the Ukraine corruption scandal. Welcome to the party, Department of Energy!
Remember how Giuliani has been working with the two shady-ass Ukrainian-American chucklefucks Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to push the Ukrainium One Biden smear and the bullshit line that the ledger showing illicit payments to Paul Manafort from a pro-Russian Ukrainian party was the REAL COLLUSION? Turns out, acting as Trump's lawyer opened a lot of doors in Ukraine for Rudy and his pals. And it looks like they rode that all-access pass to advance their own goal to get a cut of the Ukrainian natural gas industry.
Parnas and Fruman, who donated $325,000 to one of the Trump-supporting PACs in 2018, partnered up with Florida oil magnate Harry Sargeant III, another big GOP donor, to engineer a shakeup on the board of Ukraine's state-owned energy company. Their plan was to replace CEO Andriy Kobolyev with Andrew Favorov, a different Naftogaz executive they hoped would steer business their way.
AP reports on a meeting in early March 2018:
The three approached Favorov with the idea while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Parnas and Fruman told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people briefed on the details.
Sargeant told Favorov that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president's full support, according to the two people who said Favorov recounted the discussion to them.
Two sources confirmed this conversation, with one telling the AP, "Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown." Both sources said that Parnas and Fruman told Favorov three months before it happened that America's Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was going to get the boot and be replaced with someone who might favor their business interests. One of those sources, energy executive Dale Perry (no relation to Rick), was so disturbed that he documented it in an April 12 memo he submitted to the State Department.
On March 24, Parnas and Giuliani met with Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign advisor, at the Trump Hotel in DC to set up 45 Energy Group, an energy firm based in Houston which describes itself as a "government relations, public affairs and business development practice group." (Get it, get it, 45?)
Now, on its face, this may look like a transparent attempt to get a piece of America's natural gas exports by showering the president with cash and milking the connection for all it's worth. But no, it's not that, according to Parnas and Fruman's attorney John Dowd (YES THAT JOHN DOWD), who told the AP that it was actually Favorov who approached them.
"The people from the company solicited my clients because Igor is in the gas business, and they asked them, and they flew to Washington and they solicited. [...] And then it was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together. It wasn't a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn't work out."
UH HUH. Well, Mr. Dowd's clients can explain that to House investigators when they testify in response to the subpoenas already issued. And also, RICK PERRY IT'S SHOWTIME.
At the same time Giuliani and his pals were trying to put their guy in charge of the Naftogaz board, America's secretary of Energy was meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv to get him to replace the board with people more "reputable in Republican circles," which is an exact quote from someone in the room at the time. And in a meeting attended by EU Ambassador Sondland (who will testify to the House tomorrow) and Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker (who testified last week), Perry gave Zelenskiy a list of proposed board members that included multiple GOP donors from back in Houston.
Take it away, AP:
Perry made clear that the Trump administration wanted to see the entire Naftogaz supervisory board replaced, according to a person who attended both meetings. Perry again referenced the list of advisers that he had given Zelenskiy, and it was widely interpreted that he wanted Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas, to join the newly formed board, the person said. Also on the list was Robert Bensh, another Texan who frequently works in Ukraine, the Energy Department confirmed.
The Naftogaz board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian government in consultation with the International Monetary Fund, EU, and US -- not by the US Energy Secretary handing over a list of cronies who'd like to increase their foothold in Eastern Europe. But Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes denied that there was a list of candidates, and defended her boss's conduct as part of his duty to root out corruption in Ukraine, a recipient of foreign aid. And while Ms. Hynes acknowledged that Perry had spoken to Rudy Giuliani, she declined to say whether they discussed the Naftogaz board.
So, to sum up! Donald Trump's "unpaid" lawyer, who was on a mission to Ukraine explicitly authorized by the White House and the State Department so he could dig up dirt on Joe Biden, was simultaneously using that mission to represent private clients trying to muscle in on the Ukrainian natural gas industry. For this project, they enlisted the help US Department of Energy, who leaned on the Ukrainians to install GOP donors to Naftogaz's board. And Rick Perry tried to get Trump to reinforce this message in the July 25 phone call to President Zelenskiy, but Trump was too busy shaking down Ukraine for dirt on Biden and the 2016 election to bother with the lower-level corruption, so it never came up. Unless it got edited out of the "transcript," which is always a possibility.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.