Energy Secretary Rick Perry informed President Donald Trump on Thursday that he would soon step down from his cabinet position, as attention continues to focus on his role in the Ukraine scandal that has launched an impeachment investigation against the president.
According to Bloomberg, which first reported the news, Perry notified the president of his decision in writing on Air Force One on the way to Texas, where Trump was due to attend an event with Dallas supporters on Thursday evening.
BuzzFeed News subsequently independently confirmed the report.
As recently as 10 days ago, Perry had downplayed rumors of his imminent departure. “They’ve been writing the story that I was leaving the Department of Energy for at least nine months now. One of these days they will probably get it right,” he said. “But it’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, not next month. Keep saying it and one day you’ll be right.”
Perry is one of several top Trump officials and allies who has come under the scrutiny of House members as part of their impeachment investigation. Investigators issued subpoenas against him on Oct. 10 as part of a probe to determine if he improperly sought to influence Ukraine’s state-owned gas company.
As the energy secretary, Perry helped promote President Trump’s fossil fuel agenda in the US and abroad, including advocating for exporting natural gas to Eastern Europe and helping secure coal exports to Ukraine. But he also had an expanded role in Ukraine, replacing Vice President Mike Pence in leading the US delegation attending Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration in May.
Perry’s repeated interactions with Ukrainian officials, including just in September, have recently made him a person of interest in the congressional probe, which was prompted by a whistleblower complaint into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. At the center of the whistleblower complaint is a July phone call Trump made to Zelensky, where he asked a "favor" of the new Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden. Trump reportedly said he only made the controversial phone call because Perry asked him to, saying it had to do with “something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant,” Axios first reported.
In an interview published Wednesday night, Perry told the Wall Street Journal that Trump asked him to speak with Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer aiding the president, this past spring about corruption in Ukraine.
“And as I recall the conversation, he said, ‘Look, the president is really concerned that there are people in Ukraine that tried to beat him during this presidential election,’” Perry told the Journal. “‘He thinks they’re corrupt and…that there are still people over there engaged that are absolutely corrupt.’” Perry said Giuliani did not make any specific demands and said he never heard Giuliani, Trump, or others specifically mention the possibility of investigating Biden.
Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette will take over as the agency’s acting head, and it’s unclear if the White House will nominate him or someone else to permanently lead the agency.
Until recent months, Perry had arguably been one of the more low-profile members of the Trump cabinet.
In the early days of Perry’s nomination to run the Energy Department, he made headlines for seemingly being confused about what the job entailed and past comments calling for the elimination of the agency during his 2012 presidential bid.
Shortly after taking the helm of the department in March 2017, he had a secret meeting with Robert Murray, head of the coal company Murray Energy, and then called for a controversial study into the reliability and vulnerability of the US electric grid. Many energy and environmental advocates viewed the study as an attempt to justify policies prioritizing power plants over renewable energy, such as solar and wind.
The resulting study was not as troubling as some renewable energy advocates had feared, finding the grid was doing just fine despite the shuttering of some coal and nuclear plants amid new sources of clean energy. But Perry then proposed new subsidies for coal and nuclear plants in the name of improving grid resiliency. The backlash from environmental advocates was immediate and intense, and the idea was officially squashed in early January.
Before joining the federal government, Perry questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. He’s since changed his position, acknowledging its happening and humans are involved. On a trip to Saudi Arabia, he helped broker an international collaboration on figuring out how to reduce the climate pollution from fossil fuels.
The Energy Department under Perry’s watch also violated the law by temporarily withholding funds for certain research grants, as well as unlawfully delayed four rules requiring air conditioners, boilers, and other products to use less energy.
But the agency’s budget is on track to be much bigger than when Perry started the job. He also created a new office devoted to cybersecurity and expanded the agency’s focus on artificial intelligence.
Perry previously served in the US Air Force. He then went on to be the longest-serving governor of Texas, from 2000 to 2015. He was also a contestant on the show Dancing with the Stars.