President Donald Trump is pointing the finger at Energy Secretary Rick Perry, saying he is the one who urged him to make the now-infamous July phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump told House Republicans on Friday that he didn’t really want to make the call in the first place that has now sparked an impeachment inquiry. “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,” Trump said, according to Axios. With the move, Trump is blaming the controversial call on an official who will reportedly be leaving the administration next month. Axios was first to report the news that was later confirmed by several others.
Perry isn’t denying that he played a hand in urging Trump to make the call to Zelensky. “Secretary Perry absolutely supported and encouraged the president to speak to the new president of Ukraine to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development,” Perry’s Energy Department spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, said. “He continues to believe that there is significant need for improved regional energy security — which additional options for natural gas supply will provide — and this is exactly why he is heading to Lithuania tonight to meet with nearly two dozen European energy leaders (including Ukraine) on these issues.”
The statement from Perry’s spokeswoman makes clear the secretary was interested in the call due to energy and economic issues. Trump also did not suggest in the conversation with Republican lawmakers that Perry pushed him to mention former vice president Joe Biden in his talk with Zelensky. Still, the president’s highlighting Perry’s suggests “he may be seeking to distance himself from responsibility or recast the pretext for the call,” notes Axios. NBC also points out that Trump’s effort to rope Perry into the controversy “came as the president’s allies tried to convince him to implement a strategy for countering the impeachment inquiry that’s engulfing his White House and some of the top members of his Cabinet.” Trump mention of Perry comes at a time when the energy secretary was already increasingly under the microscope for his actions relating to Ukraine. Among other issues, Democrats have been seeking information on the delegation that the energy secretary led to Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration in place of Vice President Mike Pence.