Rick Perry Has Become the Forrest Gump of the Trump Impeachment Affair, Somehow

Donald Trump, flanked by Rick Perry, addresses the Boy Scouts' annual jamboree in 2017.
The White House
Donald Trump, flanked by Rick Perry, addresses the Boy Scouts' annual jamboree in 2017.
In a different world, or maybe just a different time, Rick Perry, the ex-governor of Texas and soon-to-be ex-secretary of energy, would still be in the news this week. He would have testified Wednesday, as he was asked to do by House investigators, about his role in conducting President Donald Trump's foreign policy in Ukraine, a subject that's at the center of the U.S. House's impeachment inquiry into the president.

In the world we're stuck in, however, Perry refused to show up — in a statement, Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hines called the impeachment process a "secret star chamber inquisition" — and the world's been left to wonder and connect the dots about the Texas A&M graduate's ubiquity in the impeachment information that's been released this week.

So far this week, the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry have released transcripts of testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and diplomat Bill Taylor. Sondland and Taylor's testimony includes dozens of references to Perry and his role in the Trump administration's shadow foreign policy efforts in Ukraine.

Perry got in on the action, according to Taylor, after he represented the United States at the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May.

"At the same time, however, there was an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policymaking with respect to Ukraine, one which included then-Special Envoy Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and as I subsequently learned, (Rudy Giuliani). I was clearly in the regular channel, but I was also in the irregular one to the extent that Ambassadors Volker and Sondland included me in certain conversations," Taylor said, according to the transcript of his testimony. "Although this irregular channel was well connected in Washington, it operated mostly outside of official State Department channels. This irregular channel began when Ambassador Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary Perry, and Senator Ron Johnson briefed President Trump on May 23rd upon their return from President Zelensky's inauguration."
Perry, Sondland and Volker became widely known as the "Three Amigos" of U.S. policy in Ukraine and worked with the president's personal attorney, Giuliani.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Oct. 16, Perry said that he'd asked Trump's personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to address Ukrainian corruption early this year at the president's request.

Giuliani reportedly pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in connection with the younger Biden's role in the Ukrainian oil industry.

Perry's interview with the Journal came the day before Sondland testified at the Capitol. Additionally, Sondland testified that he spoke with Perry shortly before he was deposed by House investigators to "refresh his recollection." House Democrats have been widely criticized by Republicans for taking depositions in secret, something that's been done, among other reasons, in order to keep witnesses from getting together to get their stories straight.

Sondland also testified, according to transcripts, that it was Volker, Perry and a former aide of Perry's who first told him that Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Burisma. Hunter Biden served on Burisma's board. Sondland did not say in his testimony whether Perry mentioned the Bidens specifically.

In late October, Perry denied that Trump ever mentioned the Bidens during their discussions about Ukraine.

"I never heard the president say the words Biden." — Rick Perry

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"In our conversations dealing with this issue," Perry told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, "I never heard the president say the words Biden. I never heard the word Biden mentioned, not from him, not from staff, not from the EU ambassador, not from Kurt Volker. Never one time was that said."

The Trump administration wanted the Ukrainian government to clean up corruption generally, Perry said.

"I have no idea, you know, when the president said it on that phone call, the idea that somehow or another this was the main focus of his effort here, we talked about corruption almost every time we had a conversation with the Ukrainians to clean their country up so that we could have confidence that American companies that came there would be treated fairly, openly, transparently," Perry said.

Following his discussion of Perry's part in the Three Amigos, Taylor took the following question from New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski, describing the split between the official and unofficial channels in Ukraine:

"And at that point, things — that group of people, roughly speaking, split into two different camps. You all still had the same goals, but there was one group of folks who felt that they didn't want to have anything to do with what Mr. Bolton reportedly described as the drug deal because it was wrong, it was unprincipled, we should not be operating that way. (John Bolton, then the national security adviser, reportedly called the alleged quid pro quo offered to Zelensky by the Trump administration a 'drug deal.')

"And then there was a second group of people that may have included Kurt Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Secretary Perry, who decided that they had to somehow go along with this drug deal because they felt it was the only way to bring the president back, to get him to support the vision of the relationship that you wanted. Is that a fair assessment?"
Taylor agreed with Malinowski.

"It is, Congressman," Taylor said. "And it was motivated, but as you said, toward a strong relationship. It was just a different — they thought they had to take a different route through Giuliani to get there."