One of the big deals right now is the question of whether there was quid-pro-quo in the July 25 phone call between president Trump and Zelinsky.

Isn't every conversation with the US president a form of quid-pro-quo? The US president is one of the most powerful people in the world. If the president is asking a favor from another head of state, won't they automatically understand that? In fact, other head of states want the US persident to like them and treat them well, right? In another words, they are exchanging what the US president wants for a favorable disposition towards them, which can result in aid or policies that could help them, or bring some other benefits to them. So, isn't it always quid-pro-quo?

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    The answers here are great but I wanted to add something small. The crime the president is possibly being accused of doesn't require a quid pro quo. From reading the transcript, it would be difficult to imagine the President didn't commit a felony. Imagine you may be charged with A and your defense is political and not legal. You defend with I didn't do B. If the public misunderstands that B is not an issue then they may exonerate him of something that was not an issue. Confusion is the quid pro quo defense. Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 23:59
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    However, quid pro quo can be a crime. When the battle started there were no witnesses and so it was a good defense but it was a foolish defense if it looks like extortion and bribery are involved. Now that witnesses are coming forward it appears silence was probably the best defense. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 0:01

7 Answers 7


Isn't every conversation with the US president a form of quid-pro-quo?

Possibly, though it depends on what's in the quid pro quo if it matters. In the case of withholding congressional approved security assistance until the Ukrainians investigate a domestic political opponent, there are two things wrong:

  • It's not up to the president to withhold the assistance.1

  • The president isn't supposed to use his office to go after his political opponents. Furthermore, it's exactly contrary to the foreign policy the US is trying to promote in Ukraine (one without political investigations).

Or, as we heard on the first day of the public impeachment hearings (as transcribed by rev.com):

Daniel Goldman: (04:16)
Mr. Ken, is pressuring Ukraine to conduct what I believe you’ve called political investigations, a part of US foreign policy to promote the rule of law in Ukraine and around the world?

Mr. Kent: (04:29)
It is not.

Daniel Goldman: (04:31)
Is it in the national interest of the United States?

Mr. Kent: (04:34)
In my opinion, it is not.

Daniel Goldman: (04:36)
Why not?

Mr. Kent: (04:37)
Because our policies, particularly in promoting the rule of law, are designed to help countries, and in Eastern Europe and central Europe, that is overcoming the legacy of communism. In the communist system in particular, the prosecutor general office was used to suppress and persecute citizens, not promote the rule of law. So in helping these countries reach their own aspirations to join the Western community of nations and live lives of dignity, helping them have the rule of law with strong institutions is the purpose of our policy.

Daniel Goldman: (05:13)
So in other words, it is a purpose of our foreign policy to encourage foreign nations to refrain from conducting political investigations. Is that right?

Mr. Kent: (05:24)
Correct. And in fact, as a matter of policy not of programming, we oftentimes raise our concerns usually in private with countries that we feel are engaged in selective political prosecution and persecution of their opponents.

In conclusion, it's not so much that foreign policy doesn't or shouldn't rely on quid pro quo, because it does. The problem is the type of quid pro quo, it should not be used to benefit (elected) official personally, it should be in the interest of their country.

1 In reply to Sjoerd's comments, it is considered unusual for OMB, the Office of Management and Budget, to block the funds in the way that this has been done. To quote from Laura Cooper's testimony before congress, "the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine", testified as reported by NBC News:

"Well, I'm not an expert on the law, but in that meeting immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion because there was broad understanding in the meeting that the funding — the State Department funding related to an earmark for Ukraine and that the DOD funding was specific to Ukraine security assistance. So the comments in the room at the deputies' level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out. And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible," she said, according to the transcript.

At the next meeting with national security personnel, she said she told attendees "there were two legally available mechanisms should the President want to stop assistance" — a presidential rescission notice to Congress or for the Defense Department to do "a reprogramming action."

"But I mentioned that either way, there would need to be a notification to Congress," she said, according to the transcript.

Asked if that happened, Cooper said, "That did not occur."

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    "it should not be used to benefit (elected) official personally, it should be in the interest of their country." This is the crux of the answer - I suggest moving this to the top. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 17:02
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    "until the Ukrainians investigate a domestic political opponent, there are two things wrong" Not really. That would imply a domestic political opponent is immune from consequences of illegal conduct that falls under the President's (wide) purview. What you mean is that it is wrong to investigate a domestic political opponent if the motivation for doing so is tied to the fact that he's an opponent. Ie, the President is conflicted. And from what I see here the President did exactly what a conflicted prosecutor is supposed to do: request that someone else carry out the investigation.
    – Hasse1987
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 0:14
  • 1. The president is the commander-in-chief of the military. He has power to withhold military aid for military strategic reasons. Otherwise, Congress would arrogate to itself the powers of the office of commander-in-chief. This tension between branches of government is intentional, and conflicts in the use legitimate delegated powers do not necessarily signal obstruction or abuse of power: It is checks and balances at work. Decisions at the intersection of budget and foreign policy or military have weighty consequences and consensus is required to proceed.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 21:27
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    @Hasse1987 Recall POTUS did not request someone else carry out an investigation, rather he only wanted an announcement of the investigation by Zelensky. washingtonexaminer.com/news/… Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 15:32
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    @pygosceles Your claim that Hunter Biden is guilty of misconduct is unsourced and unverified - either back it up with evidence, or remove it. This site does not deal in conspiracy theories and alternative facts.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 14:53

Yes, "quid pro quo" transactions are the bread and butter of international diplomacy. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. Which makes it kind of weird that the White House is harping on that issue as if it is the problem.*

The actual issue here is if the POTUS was demanding something of chiefly personal value in exchange for smooth performance of his duties. In other words, a bribe. Offering a bribe to a foreign official or requesting one violates US law. Even as a lowly engineer I have to get trained on this yearly. In the latter case, it does not even matter if the requested transaction actually takes place (another issue some Republicans have been arguing). The request itself is illegal.

To quote just one statue (18 U.S.C. § 201):

(b)  Whoever--

(2)  being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for:

(A)  being influenced in the performance of any official act;

shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States

(Emphasis mine)

* - This strategy of picking something that itself wouldn't actually be illegal, and is thus beside the point, and then hotly insisting that Trump didn't do that, seems to be a recurring theme for this White House. To be fair, it has proven quite effective at deflecting the discourse.


No that is not the case and I think you are overthinking it a bit. While the literal meaning from the Latin prhase is "something for something" it would mean almost everything you do in everyday life is a "Quid Pro Quo" so it would be strange for a term that could be applied to any transaction for this.

What it relates to in this case with Trump is that a request was made that was for a personal gain of Trump and not the United States as a whole (investigate political enemies) for the other party to get an already expected benefit (the release of already approved defense funds).

In short Trump is being accused of holding up approved funding that they where owed in order for him to get a political gain by gaining public dirt on a political opponent.

Quid Pro Quo

In the United States, if the exchange appears excessively one sided, courts in some jurisdictions may question whether a quid pro quo did actually exist and the contract may be held void. In cases of "Quid Pro Quo" business contracts, the term takes on a negative connotation because major corporations may cross ethical boundaries in order to enter into these very valuable, mutually beneficial, agreements with other major big businesses. In these deals, large sums of money are often at play and can consequently lead to promises of exclusive partnerships indefinitely or promises of distortion of economic reports, for example.[7][8]

In the U.S., lobbyists are legally entitled to support candidates that hold positions with which the donors agree, or which will benefit the donors. Such conduct becomes bribery only when there is an identifiable exchange between the contribution and official acts, previous or subsequent, and the term quid pro quo denotes such an exchange.[9]

In regards to sexual harasment

In United States labor law, workplace sexual harassment can take two forms; either "Quid pro quo" harassment or hostile work environment harassment.[10] "Quid pro quo" harassment takes place when a supervisor requires sex, sexual favors, or sexual contact from an employee/job candidate as a condition of their employment. Only supervisors who have the authority to make tangible employment actions (i.e. hire, fire, promote, etc.), can commit "Quid pro quo" harassment.[11] The supervising harasser must have "immediate (or successively higher) authority over the employee.”[12] The power dynamic between a supervisor and subordinate/job candidate is such that a supervisor could use their position of authority to extract sexual relations based on the subordinate/job candidate's need for employment. Co-workers and non-decision making supervisors cannot engage in "Quid pro quo" harassment with other employees, but an employer could potentially be liable for the behavior of these employees under a hostile work environment claim. The harassing employee's status as a supervisor is significant because if the individual is found to be a supervisor then the employing company can be held vicariously liable for the actions of that supervisor.[13] Under Agency law, the employer is held responsible for the actions of the supervisor because they were in a position of power within the company at the time of the harassment.

To establish a prima facie case of "Quid pro quo" harassment, the plaintiff must prove that they were subjected to "unwelcome sexual conduct", that submission to such conduct was explicitly or implicitly a term of their employment, and submission to or rejection of this conduct was used as a basis for an employment decision,[14] as follows:

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the literal translation of the Latin phrase "quid pro quo" has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 19:32

Context matters.

If you ask somebody to do something moral and legal, there's no problem with a quid pro quo.

If you ask for something bad*, the presence of a quid pro quo makes it worse.

For example:

If I call a plumber to fix something, then end up paying her, that's good, moral and legal.

If I call a plumber, then ask her for sex that's bad.

If I call a plumber, then offer to pay her for sex that's worse.

*It's wrong to ask a foreign head of state to directly interfere with his justice department. And it's very bad to abuse the justice system to go after your political opponents. Adding a 300 million taxpayer money quid pro quo on top makes it worse, and also makes the "I was just kidding" defense much harder.


Full disclosure: I am not a Trump supporter. I am also not a Democrat. What I outline below is a non-partisan explanation rooted in logic and reason, and an understanding of rhetoric.

In short, yes. In a sense, and as noted by others, diplomatic relationships generally require some quid pro quo facilitation. The issue at play is whether in the Ukraine situation, Trump took this action by way of his office for personal gain rather than the gain of the nation.

On one hand, it's easy to argue that rooting out and exposing corruption is, in fact, for the good of the nation. I doubt that most would argue against the point when outlined just and only like that.

However, that said, there are a variety of reasons that folk are discontent with the methods taken in this instance. For some, of course, it is strictly a partisan divide. In America's two-party system, political separation has become increasingly hostile, with each side taking any opening to launch an attack against the other. This can be seen in the election cycle, in Congress' refusal to cooperate with "the other side", regardless of which party holds the House or Senate, and the general rhetoric amongst the citizenry with regards to politics. From a logic and reasoning standpoint, this isn't a sound reason to be against Trump's play in the Ukraine.

Conversely, there's a moral imperative to be had when rooting out corruption: those doing the rooting should be as close to paragons of righteousness as possible, e.g. - if you're looking for crooked law enforcement officers in a department, you don't have that task force headed up by the officers that have been charged with or suspected of being crooked. While Trump has, throughout his presidency, been accused of many things, most of which have not borne out, accusations alone are enough to sully the credibility of someone (this is why libel and slander are such serious issues). Additionally, Trump has been factually implicated in schemes that are not at all on the high ground: Trump University, The Trump Foundation, and video footage of relatively regular falsehoods have all put to question Trump's ethics.

When making an ethical stand while not employing proper ethos, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the motives, and possibly the results, are tainted.

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    "throughout his presidency": and before.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 15:31
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    @WGroleau there were many Republicans in the closed door meetings, they are professionals chosen by millions of constituents and then again chosen by congress to be the leaders who go to such meetings, they are doing what they can to "win" this thing. They would be publicly calling for those witnesses now if they existed. They have no qualms spreading the name of the alleged whistleblower and would do the same with witnesses they'd want to testify that Schiff may say no to.
    – Quantic
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 16:12
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    @quantic, that makes sense. Although I would quibble with the possibly unintended implication that getting elected indicates intelligence and/or ethics (no matter the party).
    – WGroleau
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 16:16
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    @WGroleau the idea that the president should be able to confront accusers in initial evidence-gathering hearings is baffling. The republicans who participate in these closed-door hearings have ample opportunity to make a case that the committee has heard a biased sample of witnesses. If the democratic majority does not heed them, they can take the matter to the full house when the articles are debated. The traditional forum in which the accused can rebut the testimony of witnesses, however, is the trial in the Senate.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 16:46
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    @WGroleau you mentioned hearings that are about the president. The sixth amendment clearly does not apply to impeachments, restricted as it is by its first four words to application "in all criminal prosecutions," but the White House has invoked the rights to cross examine witnesses, for discovery of evidence, for counsel at hearings, and so on, arguing that the hearings should be conducted like an adversarial trial when they are rather more analogous to a grand jury, where none of these rights exist. If that wasn't what you were talking about, I apologize for misunderstanding your comment.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 17:54

"Quid pro quo" in legal terms explicitly means that you're trading or offering to trade a particular thing for another particular thing. Merely accepting a gift from someone who wants to curry favor doesn't count.

It's perfectly normal for heads of state to send each other gifts, for example, with the intended purpose of fostering goodwill both with each other personally and between their nations. That's even more-or-less expected behavior, particularly between nations with close diplomatic relations.

For example, President Obama received a pen crafted from the wood of the HMS Resolute from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The significance of this gift has its root in two other gifts between heads of state: In the 1850s the U.S. restored the Resolute and returned it to Queen Victoria. The British government subsequently crafted a desk from its wood and sent it as a gift to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and the desk has been used by most U.S. Presidents since that time.

What is not legal is explicitly trading or offering to trade something of personal value in exchange for a particular use of one's office. This is the "quid pro quo" that is being discussed in relation to the present impeachment hearings.

For example, pushing legislation that has a benefit to someone who has donated to your campaign is not 'quid pro quo' for purposes of bribery statutes. However, offering to push that legislation if they donate to your campaign would be, as would accepting an offer of the donation in exchange for pushing the legislation.


Isn't any conversation with the US president quid-pro-quo?

In a sense, yes. But that is not limited to the US president only.

Everything in international diplomacy between Heads of States is some sort of quid-pro-quo. Nobody does something without hoping or expecting something in return.

If a new Head of State is naïve and sends a gift without expecting anything in return, the other side will accept the gift and not do anything in return. A new Head of State might fall once for that trap - although career diplomats should warn - but will not repeat this rookie mistake.

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    Please try to add references to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 2:37
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    "Everything in international diplomacy between Heads of States is some sort of quid-pro-quo." -- State level negotiations are generally in the national interest for each country. This answer seems to conflate a mutual exchange between countries as the same as between an individual and a country. An explanation about that difference (or how they are the same) might improve this answer.
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 13:45
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    @Sjoerd "I provide the references I deem required" You did not provide ANY references. I agree with what you have stated so far. Any reference would strengthen your answer.
    – carrizal
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 15:09
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    @carrizal (I'm only pinging you here because you said you agree) and Sjoerd: sometimes people do beneficial things for the purpose of creating good will. I do not disagree that quid pro quo can be proper; it is the basis of contract law, after all, but the statement "Nobody does something without...expecting something in return" is overly strong, and if you consider someone doing something "hoping...for something in return" then it's not quid pro quo because the "quid" is not conditioned on any particular "quo."
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 15:40

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