Aide: Perry pushed Trump for Ukraine call, for energy issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry encouraged President Donald Trump to speak to Ukraine's president — but on energy and economic issues, Perry's spokeswoman said Sunday, addressing Perry's role in a telephone call that's at the center of a congressional impeachment probe for Trump.

"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 in an email.

Hynes' remark comes as Perry becomes the latest administration official drawn into inquiries in a House impeachment probe of Trump. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the July 25 call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — sparking a whistleblower complaint and now the impeachment inquiry.

Trump on Friday evening told House Republicans that it was Perry who had teed up the July call with Ukraine, according to a person familiar with Trump's new comments who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conference call.

But Trump did not suggest that Perry had anything to do with the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, or a U.S. holdup in military aid to the country, the person said. Trump's remarks on the late Friday call was first reported by Axios.

Perry, the former governor of Texas and up to now a lower-profile but active member of Trump's Cabinet, has made repeated trips to Ukraine and met often with Ukranian officials, including Zelenskiy. Perry and his agency say his involvement with Ukraine was part of U.S. policy, predating the Trump administration, to increase U.S. natural gas, coal and other supplies to Eastern Europe to lessen Russia's control of the region's energy market.

"He continues to believe that there is significant need for improved regional energy security," Hynes said. Perry was heading to Lithuania again Sunday night, and would meet with nearly two dozen European energy officials, including those from Ukraine, she said.

Hynes did not immediately answer questions Sunday about whether Perry had discussed the Trump administration's push for help investigating Trump's Democratic rivals in his meetings with Ukraine.

But Perry told an evangelical Christian news outlet, CBN News, in an interview aired Friday that he had never heard anyone in the administration bring up Biden or Biden's son, who served on a board of a Ukraine natural gas business, in dealings with Ukrainian officials.

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Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is sworn in before testifying at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on his nomination to be Energy secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
President-elect Donald Trump's Energy Secretary nominee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, arrives for the inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
New Secretary of Energy Rick Perry embraces his wife Anita during during his swearing in ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
New Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is sworn in by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) as his wife Anita holds a bible during a ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump is surrounded by his cabinet, including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney (L-R), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Linda McMahon, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as he signs an executive order entitled "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch" in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump's Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry (2nd R) and his wife Anita speak with Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis (R) before the Inaugural Parade in Washington January 20, 2017. Donald Trump was sworn in as 45th President of the United States. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Rick Perry listens to US Vice President Mike Pence speak as he waits to be sworn in as US Secretary of Energy during a swearing in ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and incoming US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry wait for a swearing in ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and U.S. secretary of energy nominee for President Donald Trump, left, speaks with Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, center right, as Ivanka, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, stands before the start of a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Trump will press Congress to carry out his priorities for replacing Obamacare, jump-starting the economy and bolstering the nations defenses in an address eagerly awaited by lawmakers, investors and the public who want greater clarity on his policy agenda. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Energy Department Secretary nominee Rick Perry (L) and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee Ben Carson arrive to a joint session of the U.S. Congress with U.S. President Donald Trump on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Trump's first address to Congress is expected to focus on national security, tax and regulatory reform, the economy, and healthcare. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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"Not once, as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name — not the former vice president, not his son — ever mentioned," Perry told the outlet. "Corruption was talked about in the country but it was always a relatively vague term of, you know, the oligarchs and this and that and what have you."

House lawmakers in the impeachment probe are seeking information from Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the administration's approach to Ukraine.

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