Checks and Balances: Breaking down Trump’s Quid Pro Quo

By November 12, 2019 No Comments

This happened to be Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day a week after Trump was elected in 2016

By David DeAngelo
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer


On the evening of November 3, President Donald Trump tweeted a new defense regarding his October phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with: 

False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!”

Setting aside Trump’s habit of using the third person to describe his own actions (“…Senators are saying that President Trump…”), there are multiple layers of this assertion that needs to be unpiled here. 

But before we continue, have you ever wondered what the phrase “quid pro quo” actually means? Well, it’s latin and Google translate tells us it means “something for something” while Merriam-Webster goes a bit further, that it’s “something given or received for something else.” Simply speaking, it’s an exchange. I do a favor for you and you do a favor for me. An exchange of something for something else — a quid pro quo. 

The first layer of Trump’s tweet, denying that any Senate Republicans are saying Trump “may have done” a quid pro quo, has already been confirmed. The Washington Post reported on November 1 that Louisiana Senator John Kennedy argued, during a recent GOP lunch meeting, that a quid pro quo may have occurred on that phone call. If that part of the story is false, then where is Kennedy’s denial of it?

As of this writing (four days after the Post’s reporting), Kennedy has made no such denial. It’s pretty safe to assume he that said it and that Trump is wrong to deny it.

But then Trump goes deeper with the tweet, saying that it doesn’t matter because a quid pro quo of that nature isn’t “an impeachable event” anyway. This defense can be found in that same reporting by The Post as well, with Senator Kennedy saying that there was “nothing amiss” with that quid pro quo.

We’re looking at a shift of defenses here coming out of Trump’s GOP. It went from, “There was no quid pro quo” to “Ok, maybe there was one but it’s not impeachable if it happened.” 

What do we know about what happened, anyway? From the September 24 memorandum released by the White House, we know that immediately after the Ukrainian President inquires about purchasing more weapons from the US, Trump responds with:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows alot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine…”

This was enough to trigger a whistleblower and a number of witnesses to corroborate the whistleblower’s charges. For example, the whistleblower complaint said: 

Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests. Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 re-election bid.” 

Lt Col Alexander Vindman (who actually heard the call) corroborates this in his opening testimony when he said:

“I was concerned about the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine.

That U.S. citizen is presidential candidate (and former VP) Joe Biden.

We’ve already seen how Biden’s previous actions in Ukraine (pressuring that country to fire a prosecutor) were not for his personal political benefit, but were a reflection instead of the U.S. Government, the G-7, the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. 

That was very different from what Trump did as Trump was holding up military aid so that Ukraine would help out his presidential campaign.

So what does the Constitution say about impeachment?

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 says that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and Article I, Section 3, says that The Senate will have the sole “Power to try all Impeachments.”  For cause, Article II, Section 4 says:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. 

The House investigates and then, if necessary, draws up articles of impeachment for the Senate to vote on. If a 2/3 majority votes in favor, then the President will be removed from office.

The offense does not need to be a crime in order to be impeachable. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 65: 

The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

And as then-Representative Lindsey Graham said 2 two decades ago when he was heading the Clinton impeachment: 

The point I’m trying to make is, you don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office.”

Then, the impeachment cleanse was triggered by a president lying about fellatio. Now, it’s about a different president withholding military aid (already approved by Congress) for another country until that country agreed do him “a favor” regarding a potential political rival of his.

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