The following is an excerpt from my latest column in The Hill.
Quid pro no.
The current impeachment debate is being framed in terms of whether or not there was a “quid pro quo”— as if that is the bar that will determine whether or not President Trump did something egregious.
There are big flaws with this framing, as well as with the use of the term.
Diplomatic quid pro quo — requiring certain actions, behavior or “conditions,” in return for U.S. aid — is common, according to current and former diplomats I spoke with, and foreign policy guidance. “Under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the President may determine the terms and conditions under which most forms of assistance are provided.”
The notion that there’s something inherently wrong with this sort of foreign-aid diplomacy is raising concern among some career diplomats. A former Obama administration State Department official told me that, by controversializing this common practice, “the Democrats are basically hamstringing any future president.” He adds: “That’s why this is a constitutional moment.”
It is true that few Americans would think it’s appropriate for a U.S. president to use his foreign aid diplomacy to set conditions to receive “dirt” on a political opponent. But the available information is proving to be a far cry from the original “whistleblower” allegations that Trump “solicit[ed] interference from a foreign country" in the 2020 presidential election, in quid pro quo fashion.
Foreign aid is widely considered a tool to allow the U.S. “access and influence in the domestic and foreign affairs of other states,” particularly “national security policy.” It also “helps governments achieve mutual cooperation on a wide range of issues.”
All of this appears to neatly fit the definition of the very things President Trump’s critics allege he did: try to ensure Ukraine’s cooperation in the U.S. investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign, and obtain a commitment from Ukraine to open an investigation into widespread corruption that could have U.S. ties — including a possible tie to the 2020 presidential election. (Continued...)
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