The US government uses quid pro quos (QPQs) regularly to enforce its political will on entities it does business with: hostage negotiating, pushing of ideals, conflict resolution, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

  1. If Joe Biden weren’t a 2020 presidential candidate and assuming QPQs to investigate just another politician actually happened, would it still be impeachable?

  2. If the answer to number 1 is yes, under what circumstances, if any, is it not an impeachable offense for a president to investigate corruption of a fellow politician?

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    I think the question to ask is if he wasn't a candidate would there even have been a request to investigate it in the first place.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:26
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    @JoeW such a question would be a question about internal motivations of people. It would have to be closed as off-topic.
    – grovkin
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:30
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    @grovkin I think it is appropriate considering the line of thought that this is being done to a political opponent in the first place in this question.
    – Joe W
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:19
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    A better question would be whether, if he becomes President in 2020, whether the Republicans will immediately move to impeach him.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 11:19
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    @motoDrizzt "quid pro quo" only means "something for something else." There is no verb. It could mean mistaking something for something else, but more commonly it means, as it does in US law, exchanging something for something else.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:42

7 Answers 7


By the constitution, the whole impeachment process from the start of an impeachment investigation to the conviction in the Senate is the sole prerogative of Congress. Specifically (quoting from Wikipedia):

Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 provides:

The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 and 7 provides:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.


Article II, Section 4 provides:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Those "high crimes and misdemeanors" are described in Federalist No. 65, as quoted by Wikipedia:

In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton said, "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

So whether something is an impeachable offense depends on whether Congress deems it a high crime or misdemeanor. That term is somewhat subjective. It can be argued that it fits the definition above, but ultimately it depends on who's in the Congress which changes over time. Even if we know who's in the Congress, we can only guess how each member is going to vote in this hypothetical case.

So to answer the question: it may be or it may not be. It depends on many factors which we cannot determine.

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    @grovkin please elaborate. I've edited in the clauses from the constitution which both use the word sole to establish these powers.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:36
  • @grovkin thanks, I've elaborated. I agree that it's not a carte-blanche, but going by the description in the Federalist Papers, it could be. Whether this specific hypothetical scenario is depends on Congress.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:49
  • Exactly. Congress can impeach on basically any grounds it wants. Whether the "quid pro quo" is actually a violation of law is irrelevant to the actual impeachment process. It would only come into play if Trump is removed from office, and then is tried in court for illegal acts. (Indeed, I think he could be tried after leaving office in the normal manner, though you'd have to ask on the legal site for a more authoritative opinion than mine :-))
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 17:17
  • @jamesqf well it does specifically mention bribery. If you read the federal bribery statute it says it's illegal for a public official to corruptly demand anything of value in return for being influenced in the performance of any official act.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 17:21
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica "anything of value" is a legal term. It's not the same thing as anything of value in the plain-English sense. It's been made more precise by the campaign-finance case law. Effectively it means anything which can be commercially bought or sold. So, for example, volunteering one's services is not "a thing of value."
    – grovkin
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 22:51

Because you are asking about a political act (impeachment) as contrasted with prosecution of illegal acts (that are judged and tried by the judiciary), one can only speculate on the actions of the politicians. With that said I will speculate:

Your Q#1: Yes, IMO, an impeachment resolution could involve a QPQ investigation demand centered around any politician, and potentially any non-politician for that matter.

Your Q#2: The circumstances are whatever the House of Representatives, by majority vote, decides are impeachable.

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    If one of the three highest authorities in the government can't investigate political corruption, how does political corruption ever get resolved?
    – thepip3r
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 3:51
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    @thepip3r What are you talking about?
    – BobE
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:18
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    If I'm not mistaken, your assertion is that any qpq by the president to investigate corruption in a foreign country of anyone would be an impeachable offense, correct? If so, then how does corruption on foreign soil get exposed and resolved?
    – thepip3r
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 4:31
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    @thepip3r MR. KENT: I think if there's any criminal nexus for any activity involving the U.S., that U.S. law enforcement by all means should pursue that case, and if there's an international connection, that we have the mechanisms to ask either through Department of Justice MLAT in writing or through the presence of individuals representing the FBI, our legal attaches, to engage foreign governments directly based on our concerns that there had been some criminal act violating U.S. law.
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 13:51
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    @thepip3r the FBI works indirectly for the president. If the president thinks that someone has broken the law, the president should direct the attorney general to investigate. The president has no business attempting to compel another country to pursue a particular investigation. Pressure may properly be brought to bear on a country that refuses to cooperate with an FBI investigation, but in this case the was no FBI investigation. If only foreign laws were violated, evidence may be passed to the appropriate foreign authorities, but then it is theirs to do with--or not--what they will.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 16, 2019 at 17:47

At its core, the Presidential impeachment process is not about justice, fair trial, fact finding, etc. It's strictly about convincing an overwhelming majority of voters that the President should be impeached, so that 2/3 of Senators would be inclined to vote for impeachment. Back in 1974, Nixon's support levels dropped to 24% and the majority of the country was in favour of removing him from office, so he resigned as a last ditch attempt to save face. On the other hand Clinton had a 73% rating at the height of the impeachment and the vote in Senate predictably failed.

If enough voters want Trump out, he'll be out, no matter the charges. If enough want him to stay, he'll keep the White House at least until January 2021. Everything else is superficial. Of course, impeachments do work differently for other positions such as judges, Congressmen and Senators, but the President is unique for being the most high-profile person in the country, so Congress won't remove them without considering approval ratings first. Otherwise the party voting for impeachment risks sinking the electoral prospects for the next decade, as their core voters become disillusioned.

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    Do you have evidence to support that that was also the intention with which impeachment was added to the constitution? I mean, it doesn't just apply to presidents, it also applies to judges. Surely judges don't need to maintain certain approval ratings?
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 17:17
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    @JJ edited my post to clarify this Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:03
  • I get your point, but I don't know to which extent you're saying this is a point. Are you arguing ratings are the main point of a presidential impeachment or are you arguing this is an unavoidable side-effect?
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:04
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    @JJ I'm arguing that Senators know all too well that impeaching a popular president would spell doom for their own re-election, so they'll never do it Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:10
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    @JJ every swing state is indeed likely to vote Democrat if the Republican party screws up too much. Republicans won't necessarily vote Democrat, they could just become disillusioned and stay home. Not to mention the fact that Democrats could taunt the Republican impeachment for at least a decade to come. Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:29

Part of the question boils down to "what is impeachable". One definition, from Gerald Ford (then a Rep) is "whatever a majority of the House believes on a given day". So, yes, it could still be impeachable.

I suspect the question was really about what 'should be' impeachable, which in a way, cannot be truly answered, as its a matter of opinion.

I would argue the heart of the impeachment (in addition to life time of corruption allegations, nearly 3 years as president pushing the boundaries (putting it mildly) to a degree rarely seen before is "abuse of office". The Office of the President comes with great powers (currently far greater than the Framers seemed to want, if you actually read Article II).

To use those powers in any way that is more to the benefit of the President, no matter how indirectly, than it is to the benefit of the Country is an abuse of power.

To me, any question like this can be answered by assuming we live in the kind of country the constitution is meant to prevent us from being...Imagine we lived in a total dictatorship. Would you want the Leader of that country to use all the powers at his disposal to try to go after people for personal reasons? Its pretty scary, right?

Now, seeing the link to the personal benefit of the President is clearer when its a potential election rival, but what if its just someone he didn't like? Does that make it any less scary when you pretend we are in a North Korea style Stalinist state? To me, its even scarier.

In this way, it is not WHO he had investigated that makes something impeachable, but WHY. Note, he asked for Biden to be investigated by the Ukrainians. It is NOT the presidents job to uphold any laws both those of the US, and it is not the Ukrainians job to uphold US law (yes, there is a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in place, but then why were the formal mechanics of this not used?).


Other answers already cover the "impeachment can be anything" angle. But let's cover why Trump's alleged actions are sufficiently unpopular (and also criminal), to warrant impeachment:

  1. It is improper for the president of the United States to coerce/extort/bribe a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen.

  2. It is improper for the president to corruptly interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

  3. It is explicitly impeachable to ask for something of personal value to himself in return for executing his duties (Section 4 of Article 2: Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors).

If he instead coerced a foreign government to launch a political investigation into a different citizen (instead of asking for cooperation in an existing investigation), e.g. Russia & Edward Snowden, it would still be an abuse of power, but due to the absence of 2. and 3. the case for impeachment would be far weaker.

  • Allegation 1 seems unfounded. Since when does nationality make a request to investigate someone's conduct "improper"? The U.S. has signed a resolution with Ukraine to assist each other in investigations, implying that the nationality of a suspect does not grant him immunity from investigation by either country. Allegations 2. and 3. ignore that the investigation was warranted by evident corruption, which shuts down the "personal value" and "election interference" arguments.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 20:51
  • @pygosceles You misread "coerce/extort/bribe". You also introduced an unwarranted and repeatedly debunked claim of "the investigation was warranted by evident corruption". The very fact that the legitimate channels for legal assistance you refer to exist - and would most certainly be used if there was evident corruption - should make it perfectly obvious to all but the most partisan observer that using entirely different channels, combining them with coercion, and trying to hide everything about it, is as far removed from "legitimate" as it gets.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 23:33
  • Requesting an investigation is not coercion and the president of Ukraine testified there was no quid pro quo, no conditions, therefore this cannot possibly be construed as a bribe. Even the House Democrats dropped this allegation from their articles of impeachment because there is no case for it. "debunked" is a highly partisan judgment and is not borne out by available information. There is abundant evidence of misconduct including an ACTUAL quid pro quo bribe to deflect investigation. This question needs resolution.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 1:01
  • What are the "legitimate channels" you are referring to?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 1:10
  1. If Joe Biden weren’t a 2020 presidential candidate and assuming QPQs to investigate just another politician actually happened, would it still be impeachable?

The allegation of abuse of power, bribery, corruption, you-name-it etc. on President Trump's part hinges on whether or not Hunter Biden is guilty as suspected or even whether there is sufficient information to warrant an investigation into his conduct. If there were zero incriminating evidence against Hunter and zero actual corruption on his part, then a suspicion of using the powers of the office of the president to target an opponent might hold some water. Otherwise, the investigation is warranted and it is simply the executive branch doing its work of enforcing the law and working together with foreign governments to eliminate corruption. The US and Ukraine are to cooperate in such investigations, per a resolution signed with Ukraine back in 1998.

  1. If the answer to number 1 is yes, under what circumstances, if any, is it not an impeachable offense for a president to investigate corruption of a fellow politician?

I'll use this as an opportunity to address the impeachability premise. Impeachability according to JJ's answer is as arbitrary and potentially partisan as the composition of the House of Representatives will allow. In terms of the intent of the Founding Fathers, however, high crimes and misdemeanors must be recognized by and actually be impactful/hurtful towards the people themselves, not just in the eyes of a house full of politicians. While not directly codified in the Constitutional process of impeachment, Hamilton's quote implies the necessity of popular support for impeachment. Impeachability in a moral sense is therefore clearly a matter of actual, not imagined offense, and negative impact on society at large. The congressional power of impeachment is intended to reflect this reality, but nothing in the Constitution explicitly forces it to. The intent is that politicians will be held to account by the people they are supposed to represent should they choose to abuse the powers of their office. The existence of latency allowing for a temporary disconnect between the will of the people and their representatives is a fact of life, as is the eventually unavoidable reality of that accountability.

In rational society, an investigation that is warranted is perfectly allowable and should be pursued by priority according to its potential gravity. Such an investigation and its issuers are perfectly harmless to society, regardless of what the investigation turns up. Only an unwarranted investigation or a reversal of sound priorities in terms of what to investigate could be an abuse of power or obstruction of justice.

According to justice (which is the duty of the Executive branch to enforce), a warranted investigation into corruption of any person, politician or not, is helpful, not hurtful to society and therefore is not impeachable in the most important sense.

  • Any feedback from downvoters (or upvoters or nonvoters)?
    – pygosceles
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 19:49

Sure, it would... if both the House and Senate decide its impeachable. Impeachment is governed by somewhat subjective criteria, but it's in the Constitution. Without going into detail, if enough representatives in both houses really don't like the current president, they can remove him via impeachment. Proof of a crime really isn't necessary.

The House can vote for articles of impeachment... a sort-of indictment, only requiring a simple majority to pass.

The Senate holds the actual trial. If 2/3 of the Senators vote for impeachment, the president is out.

In today's situation, it is quite possible that the articles of impeachment might pass the House. Getting a 2/3 majority in the Senate to convict is unlikely, if for no other reason that removing any president is a highly destabilizing event in itself.

Looking back to the last unscheduled presidential departure, Nixon, the Democrats won big in 1976. But, the generally uncertain nature of a president being forced out of office, combined with Carter's massive tax increases, had investors fleeing the stock market for bonds and gold, which pushed the country into a deep recession in the late 1970's, with unemployment higher than 2008-2009.

For which the Democrats were held responsible in the 1980 election... leading to Republicans dominating the federal government for the next 12 years.

Impeachment should not be taken lightly. The unintended consequences can be severe.

If Joe Biden wasn't a 2020 candidate, there is a possibility that the investigation into his and his son's dealings with Ukraine would have moved forward.

Even discounting the right wing exaggerations, a US VP's son with no management experience at all and a somewhat irresponsible past including getting booted from the Army for drug use, suddenly getting a $600k-900k a year job as a director of a foreign energy company... looks like an attempt by that company or country to purchase Dad's influence.

Dad using the power of the VP's office to exert influence beneficial to his son, and bragging about it on video, does nothing to paint that situation in a more ethical light.

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    To be clear, Joe Biden didn't "brag on video" about "exerting influence beneficial to his son". You might want to look deeper into what Biden did "brag" about: the removal from office of Viktor Shokin, the now former prosecutor general of Ukraine, whom the US Government, EU, IMF, the World Bank, Ukrainian prosecutors, Ukrainian MPs and anti-corruption Ukrainians wanted gone because of his corruption. A man who Trump has described as "very good" and "very fair"...
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 14:38
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    Biden Sr. went to the Ukraine on orders of the US government to get rid of Shokin. He succeeded, and bragged about it. Not half as much as Trump would. At that point in time, Biden jr. had no connection to the Ukraine.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 13:23

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