The Trump impeachment is all about an allegation of quid pro quo. But what does that mean?
Quid pro quo. It’s hard to say and can require some nuance to prove, but it’s the phrase at the center of a contentious impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Did he withhold military aid to Ukraine by pressuring the country to investigate his political rivals? Trump and his staunch supporters say no. The Democrats say yes. Either way, the idea of quid pro quo stands firmly at the base of the investigation.
So, what is it? To the dictionary, we go.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the Latin phrase as simply, “something given or received for something else.” Often, quid pro quos can be seen in cases of bribery and extortion.
Why the Democrats think Trump is guilty of it
The entire controversy over a quid pro quo started with the July 25 phone call between Trump and the newly-elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that call, Trump asked Zelensky to open an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and his business dealings with the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.
With Trump discussing almost $400 million in security aid to Ukraine, Trump tells Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor”. Democrats say it shows pressure by Trump and a quid pro quo.
Trump has pushed the claim, without any credible evidence, that the former vice president pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor to help his son, who was at one time on the board of the Ukrainian company.
Trump froze the aid to Ukraine after it was approved by Congress. Ukraine has been in conflict with Russian-backed forces in Eastern Ukraine since 2014.
The whistleblower at the center of the inquiry stated officials were concerned Trump “is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
More: ‘Do your job’: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul demands media reveal whistleblower’s identity
Multiple officials that have been participating in closed-door depositions on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry have also indicated suggestions of a quid pro quo beyond the July 25 call.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union submitted an amendment to his original testimony this week, adding that he had communicated a quid pro quo to a Ukraine official, linking military aid for Ukraine that was delayed by the United States to a public statement from Ukrainian officials committing to investigations Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani wanted.
More: Sondland detailed ‘quid pro quo’ in amended testimony filed this week, transcript shows
In that addendum, Sondland said he now remembered a conversation with a top aide to Zelensky “where I said resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
Why Trump said he did nothing wrong: No quid pro quo.
Trump has repeatedly labeled the Ukraine call as “perfect”, saying there is clearly no direct evidence of wrongdoing, bring back his accusation of being the victim of a “witch hunt”. He also points out that Zelensky has said he never felt pressured.
Republicans are combating the narrative by pointing to the testimony of Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine who told lawmakers that he had never seen any proof that the president withheld a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president until the country launched investigations helpful to him politically, and personally didn’t see a quid pro quo.
For the White House, on top of reiterating the lack of a quid pro quo, Trump tweeted that “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!” referring to Washington Post reporting that GOP Senators might acknowledge a quid pro quo, but argue that it is not illegal unless there is “corrupt intent.”
Defining quid pro quo proved challenging within the impeachment hearings
William Taylor, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, agreed with lawmakers during his deposition that his understanding of a White House meeting between the two countries was determined upon public statements about the political investigations desired.
However, Taylor clarified that he was neither a lawyer nor did he speak Latin when discussing his understandings of what a quid pro quo is.
He was asked, “And, of course, whether it meets a legal definition of ‘quid pro quo’ or it doesn’t is really irrelevant to what we’re focused on here. But it is your testimony that, hey, you don’t make these public statements about these two political investigations we want, you’re not getting this meeting – you make these statements, you’ll get the meeting; you don’t make these statements, you won’t. Was that your understanding of the state of affairs in July of 2019?”