Why Quid Pro Quo Works When Collusion Didn't | Opinion

In a substantial change to his initial testimony, Gordon D. Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the EU, disclosed to impeachment investigators that he told Ukrainian officials that nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid was likely contingent on their commitment to investigations President Donald Trump wanted. This turnaround, in a sworn statement released on Tuesday, marks the latest confirmation of a quid pro quo, and the first from a Trump ally.

Is this what will bring down Trump? The Mueller report detailed 10 examples of potential obstruction of justice by the president earlier this year, and Democrats across the country stood in amazement as nothing happened. What has changed now? Well, according to the broader American public, a lot.

When special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress this summer, only 36.9 percent of Americans supported beginning the impeachment process, according to an examination of several leading polls by the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight. Now, 50.7 percent do. Why?

After all, both the Mueller and impeachment investigations concern abuse of power and election interference.

The difference is that "quid pro quo" provides a clear-cut example of Trump's wrongdoing, with a growing number of witnesses confirming under oath that it took place.

"Collusion" was a term initially employed by Democrats and the media to describe the possible connection between Trump, his campaign and efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. The word was a simple concept that implied a direct nexus between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump. Yet it has no specific legal meaning in federal law, and it so it soon became a trap. "NO COLLUSION!" Trump would tweet, and sure enough, after two years, the special counsel brought no charge of collusion because no such crime exists, and Attorney General William Barr declined in April to bring any charges whatsoever against the president.

This left much of the American public asking, "What, exactly, did Trump do?"

In July, Democrats tried to have Mueller explain. During his public testimony, he asserted that, yes, Russia did interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump; no, the investigation was not a witch hunt; and, no, the report did not exonerate the president. Yet he often refused to directly answer questions, instead replying with a curt, "I direct you to the report," and failed to counter many of the mischaracterizations by the Trump administration. Mainly, he did not give the majority of the public what they needed to support impeachment.

U.S. Capitol
The sky turns to a fiery color as the sun begins to rise behind the U.S. Capitol building, on November 7 in Washington, D.C. The House Intelligence Committee will hold the first open hearings of the impeachment inquiry next week, with public testimony from three key witnesses. Mark Wilson/Getty

Quid pro quo is an important term in criminal cases. It often relates to bribery and extortion and points to corruption. It's also easy for the public to understand and simple to describe, as multiple witnesses have recently done for impeachment investigators. Now, Trump's supporters aren't even denying it took place.

This is leading them to pursue other defensive tactics, such as claiming that withholding funds approved by Congress for personal political gain isn't an impeachable offense. That might not work, and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky knows it, so this week he called for media outlets to betray democracy and out the whistleblower. His goal? Undermine his or her credibility as a witness, even though he or she is now one of many.

Ultimately, what doomed collusion was the failure to focus on ethics. The issue of impeachment now, as ever, can be distilled into one simple question: Do Americans believe Trump's actions were unethical and justify his impeachment and removal from office? If the current polls are any indication, then finally the answer is yes.

Naveed Jamali is a columnist for Newsweek who spent three years working undercover for the FBI against Russian military intelligence. He tells the story in his book How to Catch a Russian Spy. He is a member of Left of Bang, a group of military veterans working to prevent gun violence.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Why Quid Pro Quo Works When Collusion Didn't | Opinion | The debate