The Latin phrase quid pro quo has been much in the news of late. It literally means “something for something” or, in other words, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back first.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with quid pro quo. A merchant asking for money in return for their merchandise is a quid pro quo. On the international front, we have placed sanctions on Russia for its blatant seizure of Crimea and its ruthless invasion of Ukraine. The quid pro quo is that we will lift sanctions if Russia withdraws from Ukraine.
Where quid pro quo crosses the line is when the request for action comes from a public official and the consequence of that action returns a personal benefit to that official. For example, if I were a building inspector and you were a developer waiting for my sign-off on a project, what would you think if I called you and reminded you of our good working relationship in the past and then said “There is this favor, though. You know, the floor in my bathroom is rotting away. It smells terrible and the floor is beginning to sag …”
Following this “innocent” conversation, you are faced with a choice. If you ignore my not-so-subtle request for a “favor,” you would have to wonder if your inspection sign-off was in jeopardy. So instead you immediately reassign several of your crew to get right over to my house and repair my bathroom floor. No surprise that I signed your permit the very next day.
This is a blatant example of corruption. It is also illegal. Another term for this is “extortion.” The request doesn’t even have to be explicitly spelled out. So long as the hearer understands the implication that they will only receive what they want after they do your bidding and what they are being asked is to provide a personal benefit to the requesting official, it is against the law.
The question now before the American people is whether our president asked the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival, thus requesting foreign interference in our electoral process, in return for releasing several hundred millions of dollars in military aid already approved by Congress. Military aid, by the way, that the Ukrainians vitally need to stop the Russian invasion mentioned above. And also, did the president actively obstruct Congress’ lawful efforts to investigate his actions?
It is our good fortune that Congress has voted to make the impeachment hearings public. We will be able to see the evidence and hear the testimony and decide for ourselves the guilt or innocence of President Trump.
We can (and should) ignore the comments and rants of the TV pundits on MSNBC and Fox News, the endless tweets and Facebook postings that mock our ability to think for ourselves. Given the facts, we should be able to come to a verdict. I firmly believe that we are up to the challenge.