We’ve entered the second week of the impeachment hearings on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and it’s been a doozy. On Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, testified before the House Intelligence Committee. During his testimony, Sondland said top administration officials were aware of, or involved in, efforts to help the president pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into Trump’s political rivals in exchange for meetings and military aid.
Among them, of course, was Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who came to the job after holding three previous high-profile roles: a decade-plus run as governor of Texas, a two-time presidential candidate, and, uh, um, oops. (We’ll stop making this joke as soon as we are no longer required to think about Rick Perry, promise.) Beyond the former Dancing With the Stars contestant, however, there are a number of other Texans who are involved in this whole affair—whether they’re Texas oilmen whose interests Perry may have sought to advance in Ukraine, congressmen from around these here parts who serve on the committee and have been asking questions of witnesses, or various other figures who’ve enjoyed a tangential turn in the impeachment spotlight. To help you keep them all straight, here’s a handy checklist of Texans with a role in the drama currently unfolding across our government.
You know who Rick Perry is, and you probably know that he announced his resignation from the cabinet last month, effective at the end of the year. His name has come up around impeachment because of what he knew and when he knew it: specifically, he’s been identified as one of the “three amigos” (the unfortunate name now attached to Perry, Sondland, and Kurt Volker, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine) who are reported to have been part of a side channel to Ukraine policy lead by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer.
According to Sondland’s testimony, Giuliani communicated Trump’s demands to the trio. The president wanted the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to announce publicly that his government would be investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Joe Biden’s son sat, as well as an inquiry into a conspiracy theory involving the physical location of a server that there is no evidence whatsoever actually exists. Perry, for his part, issued a statement through his press secretary in response to Sondland’s testimony. He said: “No one else was on that call. At no point before, during or after that phone call did the words ‘Biden’ or ‘Burisma’ ever come up in the presence of Secretary Perry.”
Given that Sondland’s testimony was given under oath, and Perry’s was issued by a press secretary, we’ll withhold judgment for the time being on who is more believable. But Perry himself has acknowledged that he talked with Trump about Ukraine in the past. Recall that Trump said in the scandal’s early days that he only spoke to Zelensky over the phone on July 25—the call that led to the initial whistleblower complaint—because Perry had asked him to. Perry acknowledged his role, but insisted that his request wasn’t about investigations—rather, it was about the country’s reserves of liquefied natural gas, which brings us to our next players in all of this.
Funny coincidence: While Perry was urging the president of the United States to influence Ukrainian energy policy, two political supporters—Houston energy industry player Michael Bleyzer and his partner, Denver-based Alex Cranberg—secured potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deals within the country. Sometimes things just work out for everybody!
The deal gave Bleyzer and Cranberg the opportunity to drill at Varvynska, a Ukrainian government site, even though the duo had offered Ukraine millions less than the competition, according to the Associated Press. The two launched a new venture called Ukrainian Energy to handle the fifty-year contract, and a Ukrainian commission decided that their technical expertise and financial backing were worth the millions the government wouldn’t be getting in fees.
Bleyzer, in a statement earlier this month, explained his belief that all of this was a coincidence. “I believe that Secretary Perry’s conversations with Ukrainian government officials, if they in fact took place, did not play any role in Ukrainian Energy winning its bid,” he said.
The spy chief who never was, Ratcliffe is a congressman representing Northeast Texas and one of three Texans who serve on the House Intelligence Committee. Accordingly, he has had a few opportunities to seize the spotlight during the hearings, vocally defending the president.
During the first day of hearings, a handful of his fellow Republicans on the committee enlisted Ratcliffe as a battering ram, yielding their time to the 54-year-old congressman. Ratcliffe put a rhetorical flourish on his questions, asking Ukrainian ambassador Bill Taylor, “Where is the impeachable offense in that call? Are either of you here to today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out. Anyone?” In questioning Sondland, Ratcliffe characterized the call between the president and the EU ambassador in which Sondland said that Trump told him that the aid was predicated on investigations as “mainly about” rapper A$AP Rocky. (Poor Rocky’s role in all of this is something you should feel free to explore in your own time.) Ratcliffe, as a longtime and vocal supporter of Trump’s, continues backing his guy.
Midland representative Mike Conaway, also a Republican, was one of the House members who yielded his time to Ratcliffe. Generally, Conaway has been less of a firebrand in his advocacy for the president, but he’s had a role of his own during questioning. He minimized the allegations by explaining on Monday that “all our foreign aid is quid pro quo.” On Wednesday, he asked to enter into the record a Washington Post fact-check story that awarded committee chair Adam Schiff “between two and three Pinnochios” for claiming that the whistleblower, whose name Conaway and his fellow GOP members would like the chairman to release, was “statutorily protected.”
That gets into the weeds a bit, so we won’t go into the details here, but it’s enough to give you a sense of where Conaway stands—which is alongside the rest of his party.
The Castro twin who isn’t running for president, Joaquin Castro (easily identifiable by his “I’m not Julián” beard) is the third Texan on the committee. A Democrat, the San Antonio congressman has been using his time to ask pointed questions, and eulogize the Trump presidency at seemingly every opportunity. Following Sondland’s testimony, Castro told reporters that the “incredibly important” witness gives him everything he needs to draw up articles of impeachment “in good faith,” based on the evidence.
That is, of course, a bold declaration—and the sort we’d expect from a member of the opposition party—but Castro’s suggestion that Sondland’s testimony represented a turning point was also supported by a less likely source…
Kenneth Starr, the Vernon native who served as special prosecutor in the Clinton impeachment of the mid-nineties, has been a sought-after source of commentary on the topic of impeachment. (Most pundits who’ve spoken with him have declined to ask whether his role, as president of Baylor University during much of its multiyear sexual assault scandal, has caused him to second-guess his personal judgment around what constitutes wrongdoing.)
For most of the impeachment inquiry and its run-up, Starr has been suspicious of claims that the president’s actions match those of, say, Richard Nixon. However, following Sondland’s testimony, even Starr himself has changed his tune, calling it a “bombshell.” “It doesn’t look good for the president, substantively,” Starr told Fox News. “The third article of impeachment, in the Richard Nixon situation, is very clear, it’s very succinct, it’s very well done. That just got drawn up today, thanks to Ambassador Sondland.”
The impeachment inquiry is still ongoing, of course—and there’ll be a trial in the Senate at which two Texas members of that body will serve as jurors—so it’s possible that this list may grow. We will update accordingly.