Quid pro faux: Trump impeachment legally fails

Impeaching President Donald Trump is legally flawed.

The chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America requested that Ukraine assist our attorney general in investigating possible criminal activity in 2014 through 2016.  Ukraine entered into the "Treaty Between the United States of America and Ukraine on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters," negotiated by President William Clinton and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 2000 while Clinton was still president. 

So what Trump asked newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to do, Ukraine was already compelled to do by its reciprocal treaty with the United States.  (Zelensky was elected in May, and his party won other seats in June.  But the conversation with prior officials had been ongoing.)

A quid pro quo — which means "one thing in return for another" — is an element of bribery and other similar crimes.  But any time you buy a cheeseburger and hand over the money to pay for it, that is a quid pro quo or "one thing in return for another."  To be a crime, the exchange of "one thing for another" must be independently illegal, such as contracting for something that one does not have the right to sell. 

Legally, you cannot enter into a quid pro quo for someone to do what he was already obligated to do anyway.  If you pay $1.50 for a copy of The Washington Post, it is a quid pro quo.  But if you have a subscription, the Post cannot charge you for today's newspaper that you already paid for.

Both Ukraine and the USA are obligated to help each other investigate crimes where some evidence, actions, or witnesses might be found in the other country.   Suppose a crime occurred in the USA, but one of the witnesses flew home to Ukraine.  Maybe nothing wrong happened there, but U.S. investigators still need to talk to the witness.  Or the crime crossed national borders, perhaps.  And of course the treaty works both ways.

Was there evidence of illegality justifying Trump's request?   See here: 

A Ukrainian member of parliament has requested a criminal investigation into possible meddling by his country's government into last year's U.S. presidential elections, claiming the interference has "seriously damaged Ukrainian-American relations."

In a July 24 [2017] letter to Ukraine's prosecutor general, Andrei Derkach, an independent MP who was formerly aligned with a pro-Russian party, requested that authorities launch a pretrial investigation into "illegal interference in the election of President of the United States organized by a criminal organization."  This organization, he said, consisted of senior members of the country's National Anti-Corruption Bureau, government officials, and other public figures.

We know that Democrats from the United States colluded with corrupt Ukrainian politicians and operatives to elect Hillary Clinton. 

Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office.  They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election.  And they helped Clinton's allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

In this case, $1.8 billion — that's billion — of foreign aid allegedly vanished when it passed through ProvatBank (or PrivatBank) owned by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and partly controlled by Mykola Zlochevsky.  Zlochevsky is also the owner of Burisma Holdings and had previously been minister of ecology and natural resources.

Burisma Holdings then put Hunter Biden, son of the then–vice president of the United States, and other well connected "second sons" on its Board of Directors, paying Hunter as much as $83,000 per month for light, part-time work.  

Even if Hunter had no clue that this was fishy, even if Burisma did nothing wrong, putting Hunter on Burisma's board was clearly an insurance policy.  It worked like a charm.   Kolomoisky and Zlochevsky were being investigated outside Burisma.  Burisma was the paymaster to apparently bribe Vice President Joe Biden through Biden's son Hunter.  And Quid-Pro-Joe came to the rescue to demand the prosecutor's firing.

We are told that many nations wanted the prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired.  That makes it okay for the USA to order Ukraine to fire its own government official?  How's that again?   But corruption is not all or nothing.  It is often warring gangs undermining each other.  Viktor Shokin could truly be soft on the corruption of some Ukrainian gangster but simultaneously threatening Burisma's family connections.  It is not one or the other.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Impeaching President Donald Trump is legally flawed.

The chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America requested that Ukraine assist our attorney general in investigating possible criminal activity in 2014 through 2016.  Ukraine entered into the "Treaty Between the United States of America and Ukraine on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters," negotiated by President William Clinton and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 2000 while Clinton was still president. 

So what Trump asked newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to do, Ukraine was already compelled to do by its reciprocal treaty with the United States.  (Zelensky was elected in May, and his party won other seats in June.  But the conversation with prior officials had been ongoing.)

A quid pro quo — which means "one thing in return for another" — is an element of bribery and other similar crimes.  But any time you buy a cheeseburger and hand over the money to pay for it, that is a quid pro quo or "one thing in return for another."  To be a crime, the exchange of "one thing for another" must be independently illegal, such as contracting for something that one does not have the right to sell. 

Legally, you cannot enter into a quid pro quo for someone to do what he was already obligated to do anyway.  If you pay $1.50 for a copy of The Washington Post, it is a quid pro quo.  But if you have a subscription, the Post cannot charge you for today's newspaper that you already paid for.

Both Ukraine and the USA are obligated to help each other investigate crimes where some evidence, actions, or witnesses might be found in the other country.   Suppose a crime occurred in the USA, but one of the witnesses flew home to Ukraine.  Maybe nothing wrong happened there, but U.S. investigators still need to talk to the witness.  Or the crime crossed national borders, perhaps.  And of course the treaty works both ways.

Was there evidence of illegality justifying Trump's request?   See here: 

A Ukrainian member of parliament has requested a criminal investigation into possible meddling by his country's government into last year's U.S. presidential elections, claiming the interference has "seriously damaged Ukrainian-American relations."

In a July 24 [2017] letter to Ukraine's prosecutor general, Andrei Derkach, an independent MP who was formerly aligned with a pro-Russian party, requested that authorities launch a pretrial investigation into "illegal interference in the election of President of the United States organized by a criminal organization."  This organization, he said, consisted of senior members of the country's National Anti-Corruption Bureau, government officials, and other public figures.

We know that Democrats from the United States colluded with corrupt Ukrainian politicians and operatives to elect Hillary Clinton. 

Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office.  They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election.  And they helped Clinton's allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

In this case, $1.8 billion — that's billion — of foreign aid allegedly vanished when it passed through ProvatBank (or PrivatBank) owned by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and partly controlled by Mykola Zlochevsky.  Zlochevsky is also the owner of Burisma Holdings and had previously been minister of ecology and natural resources.

Burisma Holdings then put Hunter Biden, son of the then–vice president of the United States, and other well connected "second sons" on its Board of Directors, paying Hunter as much as $83,000 per month for light, part-time work.  

Even if Hunter had no clue that this was fishy, even if Burisma did nothing wrong, putting Hunter on Burisma's board was clearly an insurance policy.  It worked like a charm.   Kolomoisky and Zlochevsky were being investigated outside Burisma.  Burisma was the paymaster to apparently bribe Vice President Joe Biden through Biden's son Hunter.  And Quid-Pro-Joe came to the rescue to demand the prosecutor's firing.

We are told that many nations wanted the prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired.  That makes it okay for the USA to order Ukraine to fire its own government official?  How's that again?   But corruption is not all or nothing.  It is often warring gangs undermining each other.  Viktor Shokin could truly be soft on the corruption of some Ukrainian gangster but simultaneously threatening Burisma's family connections.  It is not one or the other.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.