Why all the talk about “quid pro quo”?

In an article called “Welcome to Foreign Relations,” Andy McCarthy tells us that “foreign relations typically involve quid pro quo arrangements” because “governments do not ordinarily assist each other out of fondness.” That’s true of course, but beside the point in the context of President Trump’s relations with Ukraine.

From the moment rumors about Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president appeared, the suspicion has been that the quid pro quo arrangement Trump had in mind was favorable treatment of Ukraine in exchange for investigating Joe Biden, a major political rival. That, not muddleheaded thinking about the nature of foreign relations, is the reason for all the talk about quid pro quo.

Indeed, that’s the reason why, before this potential scandal broke, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, who was one of the administration’s point men in the matter, wrote a text denying that there was a quid pro quo here. He knew that this particular quid pro quo arrangement — one involving a foreign government investigating the president’s rival — should it be established, would be problematic. He knew it was not normal foreign relations.

It now seems clear that the Trump administration did offer Ukraine such a quid pro quo arrangement. What’s not clear is whether whether the administration dangled only a visit to Washington by Ukraine’s president or also U.S. military aid.

In addition, it hasn’t been established that Trump was behind the potential quid pro quo arrangement. But who in his administration had a personal interest in having Joe Biden investigated? Surely not the U.S. ambassador to the EU.

McCarthy acknowledges, I think, that pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens is “bad” to some degree, but not impeachable. I agree that, on the evidence that’s publicly available and that is likely to emerge, there is no impeachable offense.

That being the case, there’s little point in arguing about the degree of “badness” associated with this mess, something that’s largely in the eye of the beholder anyway.

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