Robbins: What this impeachment inquiry is all about
This for that. A favor for a favor. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Corrupt solicitation, acceptance or transfer of a thing of value in exchange for official action.
The use of force, or the threat of force, to obtain something of value.
In the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4, it states that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
This, in a nutshell, is what the Trump impeachment inquiry is all about.
The first line above defines the term quid pro quo, which in recent weeks has been bandied about like a shuttlecock. The second is the legal definition of bribery. The third is how the law defines extortion. And the fourth line — the first block that looks like a whole paragraph — is what the constitution cites as the grounds for presidential impeachment. That, and “treason” which is also specifically provided for.
Nothing in the law provides that, in order to bribe, you must employ personal assets for the proposed payoff. If I bribe you or offer you a bribe with dough I’ve pilfered from a bank, a bribe it still remains.
And that raises another point and that is “attempt.” The statute books are rife with crimes of “attempt.” Look no farther than the daily headlines to read of someone charged with “attempted” murder, “attempted” burglary or any number of other attempted crimes.
Just because one is a bungler does not mean s/he lacked the requisite mens rea (the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime, as opposed to the action or conduct of the crime itself). Plenty of folks are locked up for crimes that were attempted but were unfulfilled.
It is a poor defense to plead, “Hey look, I tried to commit the crime but failed. Um … no harm, no foul. Right?” No, not so much. Neither is it convincing to contend, “Hey, yeah, I pulled my Glock on you, plugged it under your drippy nose, and demanded your money only to later say ‘Oh, never mind.’” By then, a least one wrongful deed was done.
It is similarly facile for the president’s defenders to hold that, “Hey, the aid to Ukraine went through, didn’t it? So, ah … no harm, no foul. Right?”
One thing for the impeachment process to sort out is whether the crime of bribery had already been completed by the time the aid went through. Oh, and by the way, it is probably worth noticing that the aid was not unblocked until the whistleblower blew and the administration heard the parting shrill of the Congressional ship of inquiry setting sail.
In the very unlikely case that the above is gobbledygook to you, a skosh of context …
In a mid-July phone call this year, Mr. Trump put pressure on Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to dish dirt on Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. In return, Trump would release $400 million in U.S. military aid that had already been appropriated by Congress. As a quick aside, it is the Congress which controls the national purse.
Specifically, Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor,” leaving little if any doubt that the aid would not be released absent Zelensky doing the U.S. president’s bidding. And here’s the kicker; bidding that Trump demanded was to feather his own political advantage. What he demanded of Zelensky not only failed to serve U.S. interests, it undermined it.
Of course, as the threads untangle, it all gets messier than this. The Ukraine scandal began in the spring of 2019, with a series of contacts between Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian officials. This naturally raises questions of “shadow diplomacy” and what the heck bombastic former mayor of New York is doing overseas without diplomatic credentials conducting what appears to be either American diplomacy or ingratiating Trump’s personal agenda with the Ukrainians by leveraging U.S. taxpayer funds.
So here’s the thing:
There ain’t a quid, a pro or a quo to be found in the U.S. Constitution. And quid pro quoing cannot be found among legal statutes as a crime. Neither do the constitutional provisions dealing with presidential impeachment expressly utter the word “extortion.” That said, however, extortion, if the elements are proved, would clearly constitute a “crime” and like a pachinko ball dropping in a winning slot, might just “cha-ching” with the melody of an impeachable offense.
Bribery is, however, its own beast. Bribery is specially called out in the constitution as grounds for presidential impeachment and removal. If it can be proved that in his dealings with Ukraine that the president corruptly solicitated, accepted, or transferred something of value (dirt on Biden) in exchange for official action (release of military aid), well then, the presidential ship of state way well be angling towards inhospitable shoals.
One last thing is worth a quick mention. Since the crime of bribery requires “corrupt” solicitation, what does the law say that “corrupt” means? In context, it may be thought of as an act performed with intent to give some advantage inconsistent with one’s duty and the rights of others.
If the puzzle pieces of this inquiry can be fit neatly together, and if the House and Senate can screw up the courage to do what’s right both by the constitution and the people they are sworn to serve, then this president may be headed for a historical fall.
This is where the fate of the union may well lie.
Nothing less than this is what this impeachment inquiry is all about.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, email@example.com.