WASHINGTON — Two Texans are poised to play supporting roles in the impeachment drama unfolding in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is the top ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, one of the key panels investigating the president’s conduct.
And U.S. Energy Secretary and former Gov. Rick Perry is facing questions about a dinner he attended with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in June, a month before Trump's phone call to Zelenskiy that is the center of the impeachment inquiry.
In a Wednesday letter to Perry, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked him about his involvement as the leader of a delegation to Ukraine.
“You also attended a dinner with President Zelenskiy in June 2019,” wrote Menendez. “According to the (whistleblower) complaint, likely around the time of your trip it was ‘made clear’ to Ukrainian officials that President Trump did not want to meet with President Zelensky until Trump saw how Zelenskiy ‘chose to act' in office."
A whistleblower detailed Trump's July phone call seeking help from the new Ukrainian president in investigating Democratic political rival Joe Biden and Biden's son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was withholding the money as leverage for information on the Bidens.
Menendez wrote, “President Trump's phone call and the allegations in the whistleblower complaint raise serious questions about the messages that were communicated on behalf of President Trump to the government of Ukraine.”
He asked Perry: “Did President Trump ever ask you to convey to President Zelensky, other Ukrainian officials, or any other individuals, President Trump's desire for assistance in investigating one of his political opponents or their family members, or unsubstantiated theories related to Ukraine's involvement in the 2016 U.S. election? Did you ever convey such a request?”
'Darned good Cabinet member'
Perry, who isn't accused of wrongdoing, attended Zelenskiy's inauguration in the place of Vice President Mike Pence.
He addressed the matter for the first time Wednesday, saying he is "going to work with Congress and answer all their questions," according to CNN.
Asked why he was asked to attend Zelenskiy's inauguration in the place of Pence, Perry said, according to CNN: "Oh, I think it's because I'm just such a darned good Cabinet member, and very capable, and probably pretty knowledgeable about the energy industry."
Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday that "regardless of subject, the department is always willing to work with Congress in response to requests that follow proper procedures."
Menendez asked for a response by Friday.
McCaul is standing with the House GOP against impeachment, but he predicted that House Democrats will impeach Trump and the Senate will acquit him in a trial. “I hate to speculate or predict, but I think there’s going to be so much pressure to impeach and overturn the last election, they’ll probably get to the point” of having enough votes in the House, McCaul said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is one of three panels now in a faceoff with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his opposition to State Department officials speaking to investigators.
McCaul tweeted on Tuesday: "I hope Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and her Democrats will slow down and conduct this in a fair manner, ensuring the hard-working State Department employees are given the opportunity to properly prepare for these serious interviews."
While it is the Democrats who are demanding information, the Republicans on the panels will soon be center stage when Congress returns from recess Oct. 15. Some members and staff are now working on the impeachment investigation.
“McCaul can use the visibility,” said Austin political consultant Bill Miller, who advises both Democrats and Republicans. “I think it helps him. As long as he sounds smart and well-briefed, he wins by being in the middle of the fight.”
McCaul won by 4.3 percentage points last year and holds one of six U.S. House seats in Texas being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Three Democrats are vying to challenge him next year.
But McCaul is already fundraising off of impeachment, saying in a Sept. 30 letter that “the Democrats have launched their ludicrous impeachment plan to try and undermine YOUR vote and oust our duly-elected President.”