Trump blames Energy Secretary Rick Perry for Ukraine call at center of impeachment inquiry

Trump suggested to House Republicans Friday that it was a call he didn't even want to make, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

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By Geoff Bennett, Alex Moe and Kelly O'Donnell

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told House Republicans Friday that he was urged by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to make the midsummer phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that is now at the center of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Trump suggested it was a call he didn't even want to make, the sources said.

The news was first reported by Axios.

Department of Energy Press Secretary Shaylyn Hynes told NBC News late Saturday that “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."

"He continues to believe that there is significant need for improved regional energy security — which additional options for natural gas supply will provide — and this is exactly why he is heading to Lithuania tonight to meet with nearly two dozen European energy leaders (including Ukraine) on these issues.”

Perry is reportedly set to resign from his position as energy secretary in November.

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The July 25 phone call led a U.S. intelligence official to file a whistleblower complaint that set off a cascade of fast-moving events, ultimately leading to an impeachment inquiry into the president.

Trump has publicly maintained that the call was "absolutely perfect" and "totally appropriate."

Trump's suggestion that Perry may have been to blame for the call came as the president's allies tried to convince him to implement a strategy for countering the impeachment inquiry that’s engulfing his White House and some of the top members of his Cabinet.

White House officials have been scrambling to come up with a political strategy that allows for a president who at any moment could undermine or overrule that plan without warning or consultation, according to administration officials and White House allies.

A description of the call made public by the White House showed Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into why Ukraine's top prosecutor apparently had ended an investigation into a Ukrainian gas company that once employed former Vice President Joe Biden's son as a board member.

Zelenskiy mentioned at one point during the call that his country is buying American oil and emphasised that energy independence is "very important for Ukraine." He goes on to suggest he wants to work with the U.S. on the subject.

Trump does not appear to have discussed the issue.

Perry's name is also not mentioned in the White House description of the call, though it is noted that the summary was not a verbatim transcript and that it represented a record of "the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty officers and National Security Council policy staff" who listen to official conversations.

Text messages given to Congress Thursday and released by House Democrats suggest the call was part of a broader effort from Trump and his administration to pressure Ukraine.

The texts show U.S. ambassadors working to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating Trump’s political opponents and explicitly linking the inquiry to whether Ukraine’s president would be granted an official White House visit.

The messages offer the fullest picture to date of how top diplomats and Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought to advance Trump’s goal of getting the Ukrainians to investigate both meddling in the 2016 election and Hunter Biden.

The new details on how Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine unfolded came as the president publicly called for another foreign country — China — to probe his top political opponent.

Trump’s statement that “China should start an investigation into the Bidens” came as the president is engaged in a high-stakes trade war with China and added further fuel to Democrats’ impeachment push.

On Saturday Trump attacked Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a member of his own party, after Romney called Trump's appeals to Ukraine and China to investigate Biden and his son "wrong and appalling."

Max Burman and Josh Lederman contributed.