U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will step down by the end of the year, President Donald Trump said on Thursday, a day before a deadline set by congressional Democrats for Perry to turn over documents in the impeachment probe.
Trump told an event in Texas that he had known for months that Perry would resign.
“Rick and I have been talking for six months. In fact, I thought he might go a bit sooner,” Trump said. “But he’s got some very big plans. He’s going to be very successful. We have his successor. We’ll announce it pretty soon.”
Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who has attended several international energy meetings in recent months, is widely expected to replace Perry.
Perry, 69, who was the longest-serving governor of Texas and faced off against Trump in the 2016 Republican nominating contests, had said earlier this week that he had no plans to step down, denying a media report that he was expected to announce his resignation in November.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve our country in your administration in such a meaningful way,” Perry said in his resignation letter to Trump.
In recent weeks, Perry had found himself engulfed in the largest scandal yet to threaten Trump’s presidency. Three Democratic-led U.S. House committees issued a subpoena on Oct. 10 for Perry to turn over documents on any role he played in Trump’s effort to get Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival in the 2020 election.
Trump’s Ukraine policy is at the centre of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by the House. It stems from a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
Earlier on Thursday, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Trump had directed Perry to work on Ukraine policy with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Critics have accused Giuliani, who was not a U.S. government official, of conducting a shadow Ukraine policy.
In a visit to Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration in May, Perry had recommended that Zelensky talk about energy reforms with two Texas businessmen — Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American, and Robert Bensh, a frequent visitor to Ukraine — as well as unnamed Energy Department experts on energy reforms, a department official said earlier this month.
The Associated Press reported at the time that an unnamed source said Perry had pushed for Bleyzer to be put on the board of Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state oil and gas company, after meeting with Ukrainian officials during his visit.
Perry had helped bring together a deal to sell U.S. coal to Ukraine and had worked with Ukraine and other countries to lessen European dependence on Russian gas by, in part, offering imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas, a booming industry.
Perry had been a rare Trump cabinet member, who was virtually free of ethics investigations that weighed on other Trump officials. He has been a cheerleader for U.S. oil, gas production and the nuclear industry, but failed to achieve a goal of subsidizing aging U.S. coal and reactors facing a rash of closures.
Tough on Iran, friend to Saudi Arabia
Perry has tried to persuade Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, to build nuclear power plants using U.S. technology.
He often met Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, a fellow alumnus of Texas A&M University, about the kingdom’s plans to build its first two commercial nuclear power plants. In September, Saudi Arabia’s king replaced Falih with his son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, whom Perry had met before.
The Trump administration kept the civilian nuclear talks quiet, a source of friction with Democrats in Congress who wanted to ensure that the kingdom would agree to strict non-proliferation standards.
The Energy Department issued seven licences to companies to share sensitive information on nuclear power with Riyadh, including two that were issued after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
Riyadh plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar tender for the nuclear plants in 2020.
Perry, who advocated for maximum pressure on Iran over its nuclear and missile programs and influence in Syria and Iraq, also talked with Falih about oil. In 2018, Trump pressed Saudi Arabia to boost oil exports ahead of his administration’s unilateral reimposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.
Falih explained to Perry then that global demand was not strong enough to justify a big boost in output and depended on Perry to explain that to Trump to reduce pressure on the kingdom.