Democrats say the GOP's attempt to smear Biden accidentally exposed a Trump official's 'corrupt scheme'

Democrats say the GOP's attempt to smear Biden accidentally exposed a Trump official's 'corrupt scheme'
President Donald J. Trump listens as Secretary of Energy Rick Perry addresses his remarks on America’s environmental leadership Monday, July 8, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

The Republican report aimed at raising questions about the dealings of Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine appears to have accidentally implicated former Energy Secretary Rick Perry in an energy scheme in the foreign nation, according to the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., released their much-hyped report on Hunter Biden's role at the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma on Wednesday. However, it found no evidence of actual wrongdoing and relied largely on debunked claimsold statements and narratives pushed as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

But the report did find new evidence related to Perry's actions in Ukraine while he served in President Donald Trump's Cabinet.

Amos Hochstein, a member of the supervisory board at the state-owned Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz, told lawmakers that Perry "inappropriately pressured the Ukrainian government" to place Texas oil executive Robert Bensh on the board of the company while officials at the Department of Energy pressured the government to sign a deal with a "private business entity connected to Mr. Bensh," according to a letter Wyden sent to Department of Energy Inspector General Teri Donaldson.

Perry also pressured the Ukrainian government to place one of his longtime campaign supporters, Michael Bleyzer, on the board during a trip to Ukraine for President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration in 2019, Wyden wrote. Bleyzer and his partner were later awarded a drilling contract in the country.

"Mr. Bleyzer's contract that he was awarded was despite the fact that he was not the highest bidder in the process," Hochstein told lawmakers. "Other . . . bids were higher, and therefore, Ukraine chose a bid that paid itself less."

The heads of the state-owned Naftogaz conglomerate have since filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the contract, arguing that the Ukrainian government acted "illegally and with bias" in agreeing to the deal, Wyden noted.

"Witness testimony in this investigation has directly implicated former Secretary Rick Perry in alleged wrongdoing, and the department more broadly, in a scheme to undermine anti-corruption efforts that were implemented by Ukraine in partnership with the international community," Wyden wrote.

Politico reported last year that Perry — who along with then-Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker were the "three amigos" who pushed a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine — played an active role in the Trump administration's pressure on Zelensky, which ultimately led to the president's impeachment.

ProPublica reported earlier this month that Perry repeatedly pushed deals that "were potentially worth billions of dollars to Perry's friends and political donors" and could "stand to benefit" the secretary himself. Two of the deals, including one worth $20 billion, went to the Texas firm Energy Transfer. Perry served on the company's board before and after his stint at the Energy Department and bought shares now worth about $800,000 three months after leaving his post, according to the report.

Ethics experts told the outlet that Perry's efforts were violations of federal regulations. His actions also caught the attention of federal prosecutors, though he is reportedly not the target of any investigations.

The interview with Hochstein was part of the Senate Republicans' investigation into whether Hunter Biden's position at Burisma affected U.S. foreign policy. The report asserted that his position was "problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine." However, it did not include any new evidence suggesting his role affected the Obama administration's policy. It also acknowledged that "the extent to which Hunter Biden's role on Burisma's board affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear."

Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the probe pushed "Russian disinformation." He further described it as "an attempted political hit job facilitated by the State Department."

A Finance Committee aide told Talking Points Memo that finding new evidence against the Trump administration "was certainly not Republicans' goal."

"While Republicans' Ukraine investigation showed Vice President Biden did nothing wrong," the aide said, "it succeeded in implicating former Secretary Perry in a corrupt scheme to pressure the Ukrainian government to change the board of Naftogaz."

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