Sunday, November 17, 2019

Saving the Quid Pro Quos from Bribery and Extortion

You just can't say that Latin isn't relevant anymore.

On "This Week" with George Stephanopolous, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney tried to defend the Democrats rhetorical strategy last week of shifting their terminology. After focus groups showed that the Latin expression "quid pro quo" didn't elicit the negative feelings that terms such as "extortion" and "bribery" did, these latter two terms went to head to head in the finals and bribery won.

That's why you don't hear Democrats using the Latin expression anymore.

Of course, there are some non-Latin speaking Americans who wish the whole impeachment debate was being conducted in Latin so that they could think of something more important (and less political).

Maloney said this: "Quid pro quo is Latin for bribery." Now the fact that Maloney said this is interesting, but not only because it's completely inaccurate. I've discussed this expression elsewhere, but I'll underscore again that quid pro quo means "something for something." It refers to any action in which something is exchanged for something else of similar value. That would include virtually any economic exchange involving money or barter.

The Latin word for bribery is conruptela, a completely different Latin word. Bribery is one very specific kind of quid pro quo or economic exchangenamely one in which subornation is involved. Subornation happens when someone convinces someone else to do something unethical or illegal.

Bribery = quid pro quo + subornation

What would it mean to say that President Trump's quid pro quo with Zalensky (if there really was one, which wouldn't surprise me) constituted bribery? The literal application of saying that the President's action was bribery is saying that the President was offering something to Ukraine President Zelensky in order to get Zelensky to do something illegal or unethical. It is that President Trump was offering something in order to get that person to do something illegalto suborn an illegal action. But what Trump was trying to get Zalensky to do was not illegal at all: He was trying to get him in investigate whether someone committed a corrupt act. 

Since when is that illegal?

It actually would have been more accurate to have settled on the term "extortion," since that involves trying to get something from someone by force or threats. But it just didn't appeal to the Democrats' focus groupsyou know the ones I'm talking about: the ones who are now guiding the impeachment process.

But, of course, the extortion argument has its problems too. As I said last week, if withholding aid from a country in order to get them to do what you want them to do (and cutting it when they don't) was a crime, then it is one that administrations commit on a routine basis, and the question then becomes, if you think Trump's so called "extortion" was illegal, where have you been all these years?

The Democrats are shifting their terminology in order to gain a more pronounced political effect while claiming that they're not actually saying anything different. That's why they are saying that quid pro quo means the same thing as bribery when, in fact, it doesn't. 

But it has another benefit. Surely they figured out, after a little thinking about this, that staking their case on the mere charge that there was a quid pro quo in a foreign aid context was not going to do. In addition to bribery sounding more sinister than a quid pro quo, there is no law that prohibits quid pro quos, while there are laws that prohibit bribery and extortion.

The bad thing about it for the Democrats is that it raises the bar in terms of what they have to prove. Now, if they find that there was a quid pro quo, the question is whether it involves bribery, which only a very limited, specific kind of quid pro quo.

And by the way, does it bother anyone that the Democrats are using focus groups to determine what crime they are charging the President with?

Almost literally, this is what happened here: Instead of consulting the law or the Constitution, or some official enactment of our Glorious Republic in order to determine what crime the President may have committed, the Democrats hired consultants, gathered together some accountants, a banker or two, some construction workers and a grocery store clerk and asked them which words they thought sounded the most scary.

It's so ... Hamiltonian (referring to the musical not the actual person).

Meanwhile President Trumpmore a danger to himself than to otherssquandered some of his good will this week (whatever is left out there) tweeting against the former Ukraine secretary whom the Democrats had brought before the committee for the very purpose of trying to show how mean Trump had been to her. 

Of course, this had nothing to do with whether Trump committed any crime, much less any impeachable one. But still, the Democrats whole partisan point was to embarrass him as much as possible. It's a measure of Trump's carelessness that he facilitated the accomplishment of this goal in the very act of trying to prevent them from doing it.

And imagine being a Republican on the committee trying to defend the President and having to sit there while the President undermines you in the very act of defending him.

If you think it's hard being Trump's enemy, you should try being his friend some time. 

But all of this is consistent with what I have been saying all along: that the Democrats Impeachment strategy is a campaign strategy and not a legal or Constitutional strategy. These impeachment hearings are not designed to turn Trump out of office. That's not going to happen and the Democrats know it. The Democratic House can vote articles of impeachment to their heart's content, but the Republican Senate is not going to convict him.

The Democrats use of the impeachment process is not a serious constitutional endeavor; it is a campaign tactic for 2020, and there are a lot of Americans who realize this.

The Democrats are using a function of government for partisan gain. And isn't that what they are claiming the President was doing?


Anonymous said...

The unstated argument here is that if any quid pro quo is acceptable, then all are.

1) Did the President hold up aid? [Which wouldn't surprise Mr. Cothran.]

2) If he did, it was "He was trying to get him in investigate whether someone committed a corrupt act. " in Mr Cothran's words.

These actions have to be considered in context.
Is President Trump dedicated to rooting out corruption and does he have a history of similar quid pro quos? [I would say not.]
Even if his interest in corruption is real, is withholding ~$400 million of needed military aid to a country an appropriate response? I am sure there must be at least one corrupt government official or contractor in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky. Would the President therefore be justified in cutting all Federal funding to Kentucky, or would that be overkill?


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