Politics & Government

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck says Ukraine inquiry depositions show ‘abuse of power’ by Trump

For months, Washington Rep. Denny Heck has had an inside view of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Heck, a Democrat representing Washington’s 10th Congressional District, including the Olympia area, serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which has been leading the probe, gathering testimony from witnesses who have provided evidence that Trump and associates pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

On The Overcast, The Seattle Times politics podcast, Heck provided an inside glimpse of testimony gleaned in closed-door depositions — which, he notes, have occurred with Republicans present and allowed to participate. He described formal sessions, sometimes testy, lasting several hours.

Like most Democrats, Heck already had backed an impeachment probe prior to Ukraine controversy — endorsing an inquiry after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Ukraine revelations provided “an instance of increased clarity,” said Heck, citing Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president as “a smoking gun” and a “clear shakedown” showing an “abuse of power and a betrayal of his oath of office.”

Heck voted along party lines to authorize the formal rules of the impeachment inquiry last week. He waved off Republicans’ objections to the lack of a formal authorization vote, and who are now criticizing the rules adopted in the vote.

“They’re not fooling anybody. They objected to process for quite some time,” Heck said. “They are doing so, frankly, because they refuse to answer the basic substantive issue here, which is: Is it right or wrong for a president of the United States to coerce a strategic partner and ally to manufacture dirt on a domestic political rival for his personal and political gain, and then to cover it up?”

Heck concedes that the hiring of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, by a Ukraine energy firm “does look swampy.” But he says that’s overshadowed by Trump and his associates pursuit of debunked conspiracy theories about the country’s supposed role in the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Heck also dismissed concerns that the impeachment inquiry might backfire and get Trump reelected in 2020.

“Doggone it, this is not about politics,” he said. “The stakes are so important here that people ought not expend any of their mental energy trying to do the political calculus about what the political implications will be. They ought to be spending all their energy about what’s the right thing to do here.”

Heck also weighed in on the role of Seattle hotelier Gordon Sondland, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry — and who recently revised his testimony about whether there was a “quid pro quo” conditioning U.S. aid on the announcement of a corruption investigation into Biden.

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