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Quid pro quo: How a favour could become an impeachable offence

WATCH: Trump says he's not worried as public impeachment hearings loom

Over the last several weeks, House Democrats spearheading the impeachment probe into U.S. President Donald Trump have heard testimony from a number of witnesses to determine whether the president acted improperly in attempting to enter a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

The impeachment inquiry centres around a July 25 phone call between the leaders wherein Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to “look into” former vice-president and political rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his work on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

In the days before the call, Trump is alleged to have ordered officials to freeze nearly US$400 million in military aid for Ukraine. The move has prompted speculation that he was holding the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged that he had blocked the funds, which were later released.

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Trump has also vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying no pressure was exerted during the “perfect call” with Zelenskiy, and that there was no quid pro quo.

What does quid pro quo mean and could Trump be impeached for it?

Here’s what experts have to say.

What is quid pro quo and how is it used?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the Latin term quid pro quo means “something given or received for something else.”

When it comes to foreign relations, the term is understood to mean a “favour for a favour.”

READ MORE: ‘It was a demand’ — Officials say Trump tried hard to win Ukraine Biden probes

According to Matthew Lebo, chair of political science at Western University, countries making “trades and exchanges” or quid pro quo is “certainly a large part of how international relations works.”

He says the most famous example of a quid pro quo is how the Cuban missile crisis was resolved.

Trump says transcript of 2nd Ukraine call to be released on Tuesday
Trump says transcript of 2nd Ukraine call to be released on Tuesday

“The Russians promised to pull missiles out of Cuba and the Americans promised to pull missiles out of Turkey. That was quid pro quo,” Lebo explained. “So it is part of how countries deal with each other.”

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However, he says this is not how he would characterize what allegedly transpired between Trump, his administration and Ukrainian officials.

If quid pro quo is allowed, where is the line?

According to Lebo, instances of quid pro quo or trades between presidents or diplomats should be about what is in the best interest of the two countries.

He says in this case, there was nothing the U.S. was seeking that was in the interest of the country.

“It was for Donald Trump’s personal interest as a politician who wanted to win an election,” Lebo said. “And so that’s not a slight step over the line, that’s exactly what he was accused of in the 2016 election but much more blatant and with his fingerprints much more obvious on it — asking a foreign country for help winning the 2020 election, that’s what he was doing.”

READ MORE: Here’s what could happen if Trump is impeached

Lebo says what Trump did was “improper.”
“And is it an impeachable offence?” he said. “Absolutely.”

Could Trump be removed from office?

Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and author of Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know, says impeachment does not have to be based on a crime.
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“There’s a kind of a misunderstanding the president’s pushing here, which is it’s got to be a crime,” Gerhardt explains. “It doesn’t have to be a crime.”
Ivanka Trump weighs in on House impeachment inquiry during visit to Morocco
Ivanka Trump weighs in on House impeachment inquiry during visit to Morocco
In fact, Gerhardt says the process is largely used in cases centring around abuse of power, which might not be criminal at all.
“It is irrelevant whether he [Trump] breaks the law,” he said.

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According to the U.S. Constitution, a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
Lebo says impeachable offences can include things like breaching public trust and “messing with elections.”
Transcript for U.S. State Department official released
Transcript for U.S. State Department official released

However, while it is possible Trump could be impeached for his dealings with Ukraine, Lebo says it is unlikely that he will be removed from office.

In order for Trump to be removed two-thirds of the Republican held Senate would need to vote in favour of ousting him from office.

Currently the U.S. Senate is comprised of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents. That means all of the Senate Democrats, both Independents and 20 Republicans would need to vote in favour of convicting and removing Trump.

READ MORE: Impeachment hearings go public next week — Here’s what you can expect

Something Lebo says is “not going to happen.”

“There’s no way there’s going to be 20,” Lebo said. “And so you’ll have a president who’s been impeached but not removed running for re-election.”

Gerhardt too says it is unlikely Trump will be convicted and removed.

“So he’ll emerge from this process if he’s not convicted and removed — the likelihood is that he won’t be convicted and removed — claiming he’s been exonerated and then lambasting the Democrats for a sham process,” he said.