Energy Chief Perry Tells Trump He Plans to Leave Post Soon

October 18, 2019by Jennifer Jacobs, Jenny Leonard and Ari Natter
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks about "America's Environmental Leadership" in the East Room of the White House on July 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry notified President Donald Trump Thursday that he will soon be leaving the post, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Perry, one of the administration’s original Cabinet secretaries, enjoyed good rapport with Trump. The former Texas governor has recently come under scrutiny in the House impeachment inquiry over his discussions with Ukraine.

Perry’s departure date is unclear. The people familiar requested anonymity to discuss information before it is made public.

Shaylyn Hynes, an Energy Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Perry had been planning his departure from the agency well before the Ukraine controversy became the subject of an impeachment query in the House.

Perry had avoided the missteps that led to the downfall and exit of other Cabinet members including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

But as the impeachment investigation into White House interactions with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has expanded, some of that good will seemed to disappear. Trump earlier this month blamed Perry for the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that led to the whistleblower complaint that spurred the probe, telling Republican lawmakers it was his energy secretary’s idea.

The House is investigating allegations Trump on the call pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for activities in Ukraine.

Perry has met at least three times with Zelenskiy, including in May when he led a delegation to Ukraine’s presidential inauguration in place of Vice President Mike Pence. That trip was referenced in the whistleblower complaint that sparked the House’s swift-moving impeachment inquiry. House Democrats this month issued a subpoena for Perry, demanding more details about the trip, the phone call, and if Perry attempted to make changes to the board of state-owned utility Naftogaz. Those documents are due Friday, according to the subpoena.

Perry told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Wednesday that he called Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, earlier this year at the president’s direction to address concerns about Ukrainian corruption. Those remarks seen by some as cavalier and not helpful to Trump’s cause.

Perry, 69, has led the agency he once vowed to eliminate since March 2017, and has told friends he’d like to make money in the private sector before retiring.

Trump told aides and donors at a Fort Worth fundraiser on Thursday he plans to praise Perry at a rally later in the evening in Dallas, according to people familiar with the matter.

For months, Perry has been paving the way for his likely successor, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, according to a person familiar with the matter. Brouillette has taken a bigger role in some department policy matters, such as natural gas exports, and he has more frequently served as the public face of the agency, including on diplomatic missions to tout American energy to foreign allies.

Brouillette would likely fill the role of secretary on an acting basis after Perry’s departure, regardless. Although Brouillette is widely expected to be nominated for the post, other possibilities discussed in Washington include Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki and Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

However, Chatterjee on Thursday told reporters he plans to stay at FERC through the remainder of his term, which ends in June 2021 and has “never expressed interest in being DOE secretary.”

Several key Perry aides also recently departed as the secretary prepares to leave.

During his tenure at the department, which has an annual budget of about $30 billion and a mission that ranges from safeguarding nuclear weapons to maintaining the emergency oil reserve, Perry pressed unsuccessfully for a government rescue of unprofitable coal and nuclear plants.

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