Time to stop talking 'quid pro quo' and start looking at actual crimes

Time to stop talking 'quid pro quo' and start looking at actual crimes
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The Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” which means “this for that,” has no force in federal law and limited impact on Americans. It is a far more effective talking point for Republicans. Therefore, Democrats and other critics of President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE should excise the phrase from their vocabulary and start talking instead about impeachable crimes that he has arguably committed in the Ukraine controversy. These are campaign finance law violations, bribery, extortion, and conspiracy against the United States.

First, it is illegal for a candidate or a campaign “to solicit” from a foreign national a “contribution or donation of money or other thing of value.” It is an absolute prohibition that does not require any sort of “this for that.” Trump explicitly made such a solicitation when he asked as “a favor” that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should investigate his political rival Joe Biden and the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine and the Democrats, not Russia, had meddled in the 2016 election.

Campaigns spend millions of dollars on opposition research, far beyond the minimum in kind value of $25,000 for a felony solicitation. Trump obviously believed that these investigations were of great value to him. He set up a rogue private policy team that pursued the solicitation for many months and roped in high administration officials including his acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. His former lawyer Michael Cohen is in prison partly for campaign finance law violations.


Second, bribery is a ground for impeachment in the Constitution. Under federal law, bribery is a “specific intent to give or receive something of value in exchange for an official act.” This was obvious in the call between Trump and Zelensky, which Mulvaney publicly confirmed. When asked whether a “demand for an investigation into the Democrats” was part of the reason that Trump wanted to withhold aid from Ukraine, Mulvaney said, “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate.” When pressed on whether this was a “quid pro quo,” he responded, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.” He tried to walk back this confession, but you cannot unring that bell.

Gordon Sondland, a Trump loyalist with no diplomatic experience who became ambassador to the European Union after a $1 million contribution to the Trump inauguration, explicitly delivered the bribe to a top Ukrainian official. After having his recollection “refreshed” by the testimony of other witnesses, Sondland admitted to telling the official that resumption of aid “would not likely occur” until Ukraine provided the discussed statement. Sondland testified that he spoke with the official following a White House meeting on the matter. His statement dovetails with what Trump asked of Zelensky, although the bribery was less explicit but still clear.

Third, federal law defines extortion as “obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.” Trump was acting in his official capacity as president in withholding military aid from Ukraine, which would make Zelensky fearful of the survival of his nation against Russian aggression. Zelensky also surely feared more broadly that the Ukraine could lose American support for deterring a Russian invasion aimed at annexation much like Crimea. As for the term “property” in the law, former United States Attorney Barbara McQuade explained that it is “defined to mean anything of value, tangible or intangible.”

Finally, Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States. Despite the formidable title, such conspiracy is not equivalent to treason. This type of violation occurs when “two or more persons” conspire “to commit any offense against the United States.” For Trump, the underlying offenses could be any of the federal crimes of campaign finance law violations, bribery, or extortion. Then by bringing in Giuliani and his associates to aid in the commission of these crimes, Trump has opened himself up to a conspiracy charge.

It is time for all those who care about our democracy to stop responding to Republican talking points and start talking about these impeachable crimes disclosed in the House investigations. If Trump has done no wrong, why has he exceeded the stonewalling that Richard Nixon conducted in the Watergate investigation by forbidding all administration officials to testify before Congress? Luckily, not all of them have complied.

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Repeal the Second Amendment” and is on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.