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Trump Energy Chief Recommended Political Donor to Advise Ukraine

Ari Natter

(Bloomberg) -- Energy Secretary Rick Perry recommended to the Ukrainian government a former political donor and a Houston oil executive as advisers, an Energy Department official familiar with the matter said Monday.

The episode could draw the former Texas governor into House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which centers on President Donald Trump’s interactions with his Ukrainian counterpart. Perry has denied wrongdoing and has vowed to cooperate with the investigation.

After the government of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought guidance on reforming their energy sector, Perry suggested Ukrainian-American businessman Michael Bleyzer and Carpatsky Petroleum Inc. Chairman Robert Bensh, according to the Energy Department official, who didn’t want to go to be named discussing internal matters.

Bleyzer, who was appointed by Perry while governor to two-year term on the Texas technologies fund board, donated $20,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign in 2010. Bleyzer and his wife Natasha also contributed to Perry’s inaugural ceremony in 2011, according to the El Paso Times.

Bensh is the former chairman of Rose Petroleum Plc. and now serves as chairman and chief executive at Carpatsky, an independent oil and gas company with operations in Ukraine.

Other names recommended by Perry included energy analyst Daniel Yergin and Carlos Pascual, a Democrat and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, according to the Energy Department official.

The Associated Press reported earlier that Perry wanted to install Bleyzer and Bensh on the board of Ukraine’s massive state gas company Naftogaz as part of a plan to steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies.

The Energy Department denied that report.

“Secretary Perry has consistently called for the modernization and reform of Kiev’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business in Ukraine” the department said in a statement. “He delivered that same message during his visit to Ukraine for the Inauguration of President Zelenskiy. What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company.”

Perry, in remarks to reporters in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius Monday, called the allegations a “dreamed up story.”

“The idea that the AP story basically said that we said ‘you put these people on there’ -- is just not correct,” Perry said. “Some of the initial conversations in Ukraine” were questions about “who are the people who can come and modernize” the energy sector. Perry acknowledged his office gave them names of “knowledgeable people in the gas and energy industry.”

Perry’s remarks come amid increased scrutiny of his role in the White House’s dealings with Ukraine as the House is investigating allegations Trump pressured Zelenskiy to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter during a July 25 phone call.

--With assistance from Milda Seputyte and Bill Allison.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman

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