A group of people closely allied with President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were working to push American business interests in Ukraine before the White House made contact with the new Ukrainian president, the Associated Press reports.
According to four people with direct knowledge of the efforts, Trump allies were working to influence Naftogaz, Ukraine’s multibillion-dollar national oil and gas company. The goal was reportedly to alter the company’s senior management to include Americans, so that business dealings in the Ukraine would become friendlier towards Western countries.
The allies work was disrupted when former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost a re-election bid to Volodymyr Zelensky, who is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. After Zelensky's election, Trump coaxed him to investigate political opponent Joe Biden and his son in a phone call that sparked a whistleblower complaint.
After Poroshenko's defeat, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry reportedly picked up the torch on Naftogaz.
According to a source familiar with Perry's dealings with the company, the former Texas governor reportedly had a slate of candidates in mind to join Naftogaz’s board. Perry reportedly floated fellow Texans Robert Bensh, a Houston oil executive currently with Pelicourt LLC, and Michael Bleyzer, head of a private equity firm based in Houston.
President Trump has tried to place blame for the July phone call between himself and his Ukrainian counterpart on Perry, claiming that the energy secretary asked him to make the call to inquire about a liquefied natural gas plant.
As an immensely powerful state gas company, the makeup of Naftogaz’s supervisory board, a three-person entity, is fraught with political and economic implications the world over. Therefore, selection of board members goes through many bodies before being chosen. The Ukrainian president’s cabinet consults with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the United States and the European Union, before the board is approved by the Ukrainian cabinet.
The Trump allies, a circle of businessmen and Republican donors, reportedly used their connections to Trump and Giuliani to try to get sway over a favorable board makeup. At stake for Naftogaz was lucrative contracts with Western companies controlled by the allies. According to sources with knowledge of their tactics, the group was armed with inside knowledge of the Trump administration’s diplomatic plans.
Allies reportedly told people of the White House’s plan to recall the United State’s Ukrainian ambassador months before she was pulled out. One source was so alarmed by the exchange of information that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago, AP reports.
A U.S. Energy Department spokesperson has denied that Perry worked to advance anyone’s personal profit interests as energy secretary.