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Smearing An Eminently Qualified Black Woman Is Business As Usual

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

She has been endorsed by many law enforcement groups, including the National Association of Police Organizations, yet she was accused of being anti-police. Baseless innuendo thrown her way has been refuted by support from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other local, state, and national Jewish organizations. She's been tagged as "extreme," which only makes sense if being an advocate for an equitable society qualifies.

The nomination of Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden's choice to serve as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Panelists split 11-11 along party lines, and then on Tuesday, the full Senate voted 50-48 to discharge the nomination from the committee, setting up a final floor vote.

Is anyone surprised at the roadblocks this nomination has faced?

Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, is a Black woman and president and executive director (now on leave) of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — and that may be the problem. The fight for "civil rights" for all, or even truthfully teaching about the struggle that made the fight necessary, has become controversial in some quarters, especially the Republican congressional caucuses.

Women of color have had a particularly tough time before the Senate Judiciary Committee with those who won't let the facts get in the way of partisan pushback. Vanita Gupta, despite her experience and endorsements, was attacked at her hearing before her eventual confirmation as associate attorney general. And then it was Clarke's turn.

The Usual Suspects

Some of it was comical, as when Sen. John Cornyn, took Clarke's satirical college writings criticizing the racism of The Bell Curve as literal. Some of it was just bullying, the well-trod territory of Cornyn's Texas partner, Sen. Ted Cruz, who insisted that a Newsweek column, in which Clarke agreed with Biden's call for more police funding, said the opposite.

Usually, presidents get the benefit of the doubt when choosing their teams. President Donald Trump certainly did, despite questionable qualifications for a host of them. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, not only had no education experience, she also barely hid her contempt for the public schools neither she nor any of her children attended. But the majority of Republicans approved of her, and her prioritizing of Christian and charter schools.

Fellow Texan and former governor of the state Rick Perry got Cruz's vote for secretary of energy, the department he forgot he wanted to eliminate during his infamous "oops" moment at a presidential debate in 2011. Perry also admitted he had to play catch-up on what the department actually did.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hypocrisy is not exactly new to Washington. Recently, Republican lawmakers were falling all over themselves to speechify the honoring of law enforcement during National Police Week. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, in a floor speech, recognized officers "willing to risk their own lives to protect others" and warned that "demonization of law enforcement will have lasting consequences, and it will ultimately make all of us less safe." This, as members of his GOP are resisting calls to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and downplaying injuries suffered by officers protecting those lawmakers' hides.

A Familiar Refrain

Most every Black person gets a certain bit of oft-repeated parental advice: "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." It's resulted in a lot of overworking achievers (too close for comfort right here), and a lot of stuffed résumés. But even if you follow it to the letter, as Clarke did when she earned a scholarship to an elite prep school that took her far from her Brooklyn home and on to positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, you might get smeared when you dare to be excellent while Black, and use that excellence to make life better for all Americans.

Many Black female leaders, allies and organizations have supported Clarke, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, and she would certainly be a needed change from the previous administration. Business leaders, perhaps less timid after finding their voice on other issues, have signaled their approval. The Biden Justice Department, under new leadership, has tried to rebuild its mission after the Trump team seemed bound and determined to make a mockery of its name.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did pass muster this time at his Senate confirmation after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, is settling in with a full agenda. Garland has announced that the DOJ is reinstating consent decrees to reign in rogue police departments and going after white supremacists that Trump's own FBI director deemed the No. 1 domestic terror threat.

It's a big job that the likes of Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not only ignored but subverted. In Clarke, the department would get a professional who has seen unequal treatment in her work and up close.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and another Black woman who is about the country's unfinished business, told theGrio: "Those who oppose her confirmation are actually opposed to the confirmation of a real civil rights advocate to run the Civil Right Division. They don't really oppose Kristen — they oppose robust civil rights enforcement."

In her own remarks before the Judiciary Committee, Clarke made her mission clear by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, under whose leadership the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was founded: "'Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.' I've tried to do just that at every step of my career."

If only her opponents could say the same.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Ivanka And Jared Lead Trumpsters In New 'Policy Institute' Grift

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

On April 13, Axios reported the launch of America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit self-described "research institute" with a $20 million budget and a roster of staffers drawn from among figures involved in scandal after scandal during Donald Trump's one term in the White House.

Axios said that the organization's mission is to continue and spread Trump's policies.

The list of former Trump administration figures involved with the institute is long as it begins its work, according to its website, to "conduct research and develop policies that put the American people first." The site also says, "Our guiding principles are liberty, free enterprise, national greatness, American military superiority, foreign-policy engagement in the American interest, and the primacy of American workers, families, and communities in all we do."

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Although they are not officially listed on the group's list of staffers, Axios' Mike Allen reports that Trump and her husband, Kushner, will serve as "informal advisers" to the organization. Both served in her father's administration as senior White House officials.

Like her father, Ivanka Trump during her time in the White House made millions of dollars in personal profit through business dealings involving the Trump Organization.

Among the highlights of her tenure as official adviser to her father were her hosting of an event on human trafficking that was boycotted by advocates who called them "a photo op"; her response to a question about her father's separation of immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border that the policy was "not part of my portfolio"; and her advice to people who'd lost their jobs during the pandemic to "find something new."

When her father was sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James for misusing funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to pay off business debts and promote his presidential campaign and was forced to pay a $2 million settlement, the attorney general's office announced, "Another stipulation ensures that Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump received training on the duties of officers and directors of charities so that they cannot allow the illegal activity they oversaw at the Trump Foundation to take place again."

Donald Trump tasked Kushner with coordinating the states' response to the coronavirus pandemic, a haphazard and poorly organized process that resultedin shortages of vital equipment as thousands of Americans were dying. Yet even as the death toll passed 58,000 on its way to more than 562,000 to date, Kushner appeared on Fox News and described his work as a "great success story."

Trump also put Kushner in charge of negotiating a Middle East peace plan, which resulted in an 80-page proposal and a map that was almost immediately rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called it "nonsense."

Brooke Rollins

Rollins, the president and CEO of America First Policy Institute, served as acting director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In that role, she helped develop Trump's response to protests against racist police brutality: an orderthat referred to "instances in which some officers have misused their authority" and did nothing to address the systemic nature of police violence against Black people and other people of color.

Paula White-Cain

White-Cain is listed, on a page of America First Policy Institute's website that features Maya Angelou's advice "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time," as chair of the institute's Center for American Values.

White-Cain is a preacher of the Christian "prosperity gospel," the belief that God rewards believers with wealth, who served as Trump's spiritual adviser during his time in the White House. Among her speeches during that time were her prayer for Trump in 2019:

Lord, we ask you to deliver our president from any snare, any setup of the enemy ... Any persons [or] entities that are aligned against the president will be exposed and dealt with and overturned by the superior blood of Jesus. ... we come against the strongmen, especially Jezebel, that which would operate in sorcery and witchcraft, that which would operate in hidden things, veiled things, that which would operate in deception.

Linda McMahon

Linda McMahon, who led the Small Business Administration under Trump, is the chair of the board of America First Policy Institute.

Emails released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the Small Business Administration under McMahon held an event in 2017 at Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C., and instructed staffers to avoid letting on where the event was being held.

Larry Kudlow

Kudlow is vice chair of America First Policy Institute's board and chair of its Center for American Prosperity. He served as director of the National Economic Council in the Trump administration.

Kudlow is notorious for, among other things, his declaration in Feb. 2020 that the COVID-19 outbreak had been "contained" in the United States and that the situation was "pretty close to airtight." A month later, he advised Americans to "stay at work," despite the extremely dangerous risk of viral transmission in offices.

Pam Bondi

Bondi serves as chair of America First Policy Institute's Center for Law and Justice. A former Florida attorney general, Bondi was part of the defense team in Trump's first impeachment trial.

Bondi declined to prosecute Trump's for-profit university for fraud in 2013 despite dozens of complaints from Florida residents. At the same time, she received a donation from Trump for her reelection campaign. Trump eventually paid out $25 million in a settlement with students who said he had duped them.

As an adviser to Trump's 2020 reelection campaign, Bondi promoted lies about election fraud as it became clear that Trump was going to lose. She claimed without any evidence that "fake ballots" were cast for Joe Biden in Pennsylvania and that there was "evidence of cheating."

Jack Brewer

Brewer, a former member of the organization Black Voices for Trump, serves as chair of the institute's Center for Opportunity Now.

In August 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed insider trading charges against Brewer, alleging that he sold stock shares after receiving information that their value would drop.

In a speech that same month at the Republican National Convention, Brewer falsely claimed that Trump hadn't called white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 "very fine people."

Keith Kellogg

Kellogg served as acting national security adviser to both Trump and Mike Pence. He is the co-chair of the institute's Center for American Security.

In November 2019, Kellogg said of his involvement in a phone call during which Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, "I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call. I had and have no concerns."

Rick Perry

Former Texas Gov. Perry, who served as Trump's secretary of energy, is listed as the chair of the institute's Center for Energy Independence.

As secretary of energy, Perry pressured the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz to install one of his former political donors on its board of directors.

After Texas suffered dangerous blackouts during a major winter storm earlier this year, Perry said residents of the state would rather "be without electricity" than allow the federal government to impose more regulations on energy delivery.

John Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe, the co-chair of the institute's Center for American Security, represented Texas' 4th Congressional District in the House and was a staunch defender of Trump, later serving as his director of national intelligence.

Ratcliffe withdrew his first nomination for the position in 2019 after it emergedthat he had inflated his resume and lied about his role in convicting terror suspects when he was a federal prosecutor.

As director, Ratcliffe strategically released portions of intelligence assessments with the intent of harming Democrats.

The New York Times reported in 2020 that then-CIA director Gina Haspel opposed Ratcliffe's declassification of material out of concern that it "could jeopardize spies' ability to gather intelligence and endanger their sources."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

While Texas Froze, Feckless Republican Leaders Failed Again

Within hours after a catastrophic winter storm crippled the Texas power system, leaving millions to freeze in the dark, the Lone Star State's politicians did what Republicans always do: They hunted up a scapegoat.

She was thousands of miles away and had absolutely no role in the Texas disaster, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a proponent of clean energy, so they made do with the outspoken Bronx Congresswoman. Besides, blaming AOC fit perfectly with the impertinent falsehood that Texas Republicans seized on to explain their own failure, which was that renewable energy had shut down in bad weather, just as the oil and gas industry always predicted.

It was a politically pleasing explanation that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott loudly proclaimed on Fox News, but it had one big flaw. It's a ridiculous lie that only a simpleton would believe. Following the usual trajectory of right-wing disinformation, Abbott's falsehood was instantly repeated by his fellow Republicans and spread swiftly on social media. But it was swiftly and easily debunked, much to the governor's embarrassment. A day later, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick admitted that blaming solar and wind was wrong and unfair.

As Patrick noted, the power crash in Texas had little or nothing to do with wind turbines, which provide only a fraction of the state's energy in winter. Those machines froze in the sub-zero temperatures, but so did the natural gas plants and pipelines that supply a far larger proportion of electricity to Texans. So did water pipes that are also critical to the system.

In fact the restoration of power began on February 17 with solar energy, according to the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – the nonprofit entity that operates the largely deregulated electric grid across most of the state. "We had quite a bit of solar generation online," said Dan Woodfin, ERCOT's director of system operations. "When the solar generation was online, we started trying to bring back a lot of the load."

Speaking of ERCOT, that hapless outfit was teed up as the next scapegoat when the effort to blame solar, wind, and the Green New Deal fell flat. And no doubt the loosely managed energy system that organization represents is liable for much of this deadly fiasco. But the truly responsible parties include Abbott, his clueless predecessor Rick Perry, and the energy industry they have allowed to run wild for many years. After all, ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Service Commission, which under Republican governors has exercised no real oversight at all.

Much of the trouble can be traced to the ideology of the oil industry, shared by Texas Republicans, which denies climate change and rejects regulation by state or federal authorities. So the state's grid and electric utilities did little to prepare for an emergency of this magnitude – and lax regulators required nothing more. Texas also insisted on having its own energy grid, unconnected to neighboring states, because that allowed the state and the utilities to avoid federal rules.

In a moment of unvarnished candor, Perry suggested that avoiding federal regulation was worth all this week's unnecessary mayhem. Of course, the supposed Texas allergy to "federal interference" didn't discourage Abbott or the Texas Congressional delegation from begging for Washington's help – which was immediately forthcoming from a magnanimous President Joe Biden.

If the fatal farce in Texas seems all too familiar, then you may be noticing an eerie resemblance to the botched pandemic response of the Trump administration. The impulse of Republicans in government is not to govern but to shift responsibility and try to affix blame, almost always on "liberals" or "socialists" or some other partisan goblin. What they seem utterly unable to provide are honest leadership and real solutions.

You can keep electing these inept bozos, but don't expect any better results. This is what they do, because this is all they can do.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Exposed Corruption Swamps Trump Campaign In Final Week

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It's been a long, difficult week in Trumpworld with all of the incriminating reports of corruption surrounding President Donald Trump and his administration. With Election Day less than five days away, Trump is likely feeling the pressure as the opposing forces work over time to state their case and prove that he is unfit for the office of the presidency.

Many of the stories raise more questions about Trump's leadership and the hidden agendas of his White House officials and other members of his administration.

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How Rick Perry’s Sleazy Ukraine Gas Deal Led To Trump’s Impeachment

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Rick Perry came to Washington looking for a deal, and less than two months into his tenure as energy secretary, he found a hot prospect. It was April 19, 2017, and Perry, the former Texas governor, failed presidential candidate and contestant on “Dancing With the Stars," was sitting in his office on Independence Avenue with two influential Ukrainians. “He said, 'Look, I'm a new guy, I'm a deal-maker, I'm a Texan,'" recalls one of them, Yuriy Vitrenko, then Ukraine's chief energy negotiator. “We're ready to do deals," he remembers Perry saying.

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Lone Star State’s ‘Goober’ Governor Botches Pandemic Response

Harking back to the embarrassing days of Gov. Rick "Oops" Perry, my state of Texas is once again saddled with a Republican gubernatorial goober. Greg Abbott is this guy's name, and he's another incompetent right-wing ideologue whose botched handling of our state's COVID-19 crisis makes President Donald Trump look like a master administrator of public health.

Unfortunately for you non-Texans, Gov. Abbott's extreme gooberness is now surging across our borders to afflict people in your state. Before we go there, though, ponder his slapstick performance here, where he's been swatting futilely at the fast-moving coronavirus.

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Engulfed In Ukraine Scandal, Perry Resigns As Energy Secretary

Energy Secretary Rick Perry told President Donald Trump on Thursday that he will be resigning from the administration shortly, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the New York Times. The reports did not say when, precisely, he will be leaving government, but the Times said it would be “soon.”

Perry, once a high-profile GOP candidate for president and governor of Texas, faded into the background as a member of Trump’s Cabinet and managed to avoid the big scandals that touched nearly every other top official — until recently. As Trump’s Ukraine scandal exploded, Perry was quickly swept up in the chaos.

In a recent Wall Street Journal report, Perry confirmed he was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2016 election.

The Journal reported:

Mr. Perry also said he never heard the president, any of his appointees, Mr. Giuliani or the Ukrainian regime discuss the possibility of specifically investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential contender, and his son Hunter Biden. Mr. Trump’s request for a probe of the Bidens in a July 25 call with Ukraine’s president has sparked the impeachment inquiry in the House.

However, the claim that Perry was unaware of potential Biden probe, a claim echoed by many Trump officials, is unconvincing. Giuliani was quite public about the intent to get Ukraine to investigate Biden — he talked about it in the New York Times. His discussion of the plan last May even led to a backlash from Democrats, which prompted Giuliani to cancel his trip to the country.

Energy Chief Perry Pressured Ukraine Gas Company To Favor Trump Donors

As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic.

This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag after then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost his reelection bid to Volodymyr Zelensky, whose conversation with Trump about former Vice President Joe Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

But the effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.

It’s unclear if Perry’s attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, and no one has alleged that there is criminal activity in any of these efforts. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Giuliani had in helping his clients push to get gas sales agreements with the state-owned company.

But the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

On Friday, according to the news site Axios, Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it had been Perry who had prompted the phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor” regarding Biden. Axios cited a source saying Trump said Perry had asked Trump to make the call to discuss “something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant.”

While it’s unclear whether Trump’s remark Friday referred specifically to the behind-the-scenes maneuvers this spring involving the multibillion-dollar state gas company, The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort. Three of the four spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The fourth is an American businessman with close ties to the Ukrainian energy sector.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department said Perry, a former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, was not advancing anyone’s personal interests. She said his conversations with Ukrainian officials about Naftogaz were part of his efforts to reform the country’s energy sector and create an environment where Western companies can do business.

The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogazt, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington, according to three of the individuals interviewed by the AP. One of the individuals said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.

___

THE BUSINESSMEN

Ukraine, a resource-rich nation that sits on the geographic and symbolic border between Russia and the West, has long been plagued by corruption and government dysfunction, making it a magnet for foreign profiteers.

At the center of the Naftogaz plan, according to three individuals familiar with the details, were three such businessmen: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III.

Parnas and Fruman have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to Republicans, including $325,000 to a Trump-allied political action committee in 2018. This helped the relatively unknown entrepreneurs gain access to top levels of the Republican Party — including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

The two have also faced lawsuits from disgruntled investors over unpaid debts. During the same period they were pursuing the Naftogaz deal, the two were coordinating with Giuliani to set up meetings with Ukrainian government officials and push for an investigation of the Bidens.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2 million to Republican campaigns and PACs over the last 20 years, including $100,000 in June to the Trump Victory Fund, according to federal and state campaign finance records. He has also served as finance chair of the Florida state GOP, and gave nearly $14,000 to Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

In early March, Fruman, Parnas, and Sargeant were touting a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov, according to two individuals who spoke to the AP as well as a memorandum about the meeting that was later submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
Going back to the Obama administration, the U.S. Energy Department and the State Department have long supported efforts to import American natural gas into Ukraine to reduce the country’s dependence on Russia.

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.
These conversations were recounted to AP by Dale W. Perry, an American who is a former business partner of Favorov. He told AP in an interview that Favorov described the meeting to him soon after it happened and that Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown. Perry, who is no relation to the energy secretary, is the managing partner of Energy Resources of Ukraine, which currently has business agreements to import natural gas and electricity to Ukraine.

A second person who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed to the AP that Favorov had recounted details of the Houston meeting to him.

According to Dale Perry and the other person, Favorov said Parnas told him Trump planned to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests.
Dale Perry told the AP he was so concerned about the efforts to change the management at Naftogaz and to get rid of Yovanovitch that he reported what he had heard to Suriya Jayanti, a State Department foreign service officer stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv who focuses on the energy industry.

He also wrote a detailed memo about Favorov’s account, dated April 12, which was shared with another current State Department official. Perry recently provided a copy of the April memo to AP.
Jayanti declined to provide comment. Favorov also declined to comment.

On March 24, Giuliani and Parnas gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington with Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign adviser who once served as deputy communications director for Giuliani’s presidential campaign and as a communications official during the George W. Bush administration.
She is now listed as the CEO of 45 Energy Group, a Houston-based energy company whose website describes it as a “government relations, public affairs and business development practice group.” The company’s name is an apparent nod to Trump, the 45th president.

This was a couple of weeks after the Houston meeting with Favorov, the Naftogaz executive. Giuliani, Parnas, and Baumgardner were there to make a business pitch involving gas deals in the former Soviet bloc to a potential investor.

This time, according to Giuliani, the deals that were discussed involved Uzbekistan, not Ukraine.
“I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously,” said Giuliani, reached while attending a playoff baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. “There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it.”

During this meeting, Parnas again repeated that Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, would soon be replaced, according to a person with direct knowledge of the gathering. She was removed two months later.
Giuliani, who serves as Trump’s personal lawyer and has no official role in government, acknowledged Friday that he was among those pushing the president to replace the ambassador, a career diplomat with a history of fighting corruption.

“The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” he said. “I did play a role in that.”

But Giuliani refused to discuss the details of his business dealings, or whether he helped his associates in their push to forge gas sales contracts with the Ukrainian company. He did describe Sergeant as a friend and referred to Parnas and Fruman as his clients in a tweet in May.

As part of their impeachment inquiry, House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and communications related to dozens of people, including Favorov, Parnas, Fruman and Baumgardner’s 45 Energy Group.

Baumgardner issued a written statement, saying: “While I won’t comment on business discussions, I will say this: this political assault on private business by the Democrats in Congress is complete harassment and an invasion of privacy that should scare the hell out of every American business owner.”

Baumgardner later denied that she had any business dealings in Ukraine but refused to say whether the replacement of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed.

Sargeant did not respond to a voice message left at a number listed for him at an address in Boca Raton.
John Dowd, a former Trump attorney who now represents Parnas and Fruman, said it was actually the Naftogaz executives who approached his clients about making a deal. Dowd says the group then approached Rick Perry to get the Energy Department on board.

“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,” Dowd said. “They sat down and talked about it. 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.”

___

THE ENERGY SECRETARY

In May, Rick Perry traveled to Kyiv to serve as the senior U.S. government representative at the inauguration of the county’s new president.

In a private meeting with Zelenskiy, Perry pressed the Ukrainian president to fire members of the Naftogaz advisory board. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace the American representative, Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy representative who served in the Obama administration, with someone “reputable in Republican circles,” according to someone who was in the room.
Perry’s push for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to change its supervisory board was first reported by Politico.

A second meeting during the trip, at a Kyiv hotel, included Ukrainian officials and energy sector people. There, 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 Zelensky, 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.

Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were also in the room, according to photographs reviewed by AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said he was floored by the American requests because the person had always viewed the U.S. government “as having a higher ethical standard.”

The Naftogaz supervisory board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian president’s Cabinet in consultation with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the United States, and the European Union. It must be approved by the Ukrainian Cabinet. Ukrainian officials perceived Perry’s push to swap out the board as circumventing that established process, according to the person in the room.
U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said Perry had consistently called for the modernization of Ukraine’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business there. She said Perry delivered that same message in the May meeting with Zelensky.

“What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” Hynes said Saturday. “That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Hynes said the Ukrainian government had requested U.S. recommendations to advise the country on energy matters, and Perry provided those recommendations. She confirmed Bleyzer was on the list.
Bleyzer, whose company is based in Houston, did not respond on Saturday to a voicemail seeking comment. Bensh also did not respond to a phone message.

As a former Texas governor, Perry has always had close ties to the oil and gas industry. He appointed Bleyzer to a two-year term on a state technologies fund board in 2009. The following year, records show Bleyzer donated $20,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign.

Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment on Saturday.

In an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that “as God as my witness” he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials, including Trump or Giuliani.
“This has been a very intense, a very focused push to get Ukraine to clean up the corruption,” Perry said in the interview. “I can’t go in good faith and tell a U.S. company, go and invest here, go and be involved if the corruption is ongoing.”

He did confirm he had had a conversation with Giuliani by phone, but a spokeswoman for the energy secretary declined to say when that call was or whether the two had discussed Naftogaz.