The only person in America who understands the meaning of the Latin phrase, “quid pro quo” may be the character, FBI Agent Clarice Starling, in “The Silence of the Lambs.” Dr. Hannibal Lecter explains it as “I tell you things, you tell me things.”
Therefore, the Democrats, who have hung their entire impeachment inquiry on those three words from a dead language are “losing the Latin” and now making a finer point by labeling the effort to stop President Trump a probe into “bribery” and “extortion.”
In a last-minute move, Democrats are shifting their impeachment rhetoric and talking points just days before the first public hearings into President Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Ukraine.
The televised hearings mark a crucial phase in an investigation conducted thus far behind closed doors, as Democrats seek to swing public opinion — and by extension, that of Republicans — behind the central inference of their impeachment inquiry: that Trump broke the law and should be removed from office.
As part of that outreach effort, many well-placed Democrats are dropping the opaque Latin phrase that has dominated the seven-week impeachment investigation — “quid pro quo” — and embracing distinct legal terms like “extortion” and “bribery” that are explicit in their reference to criminality and easier for the public to digest.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, which will be leading the impeachment hearings, said over the weekend that Democrats need to “forget quid pro quo.”
“When you are trying to persuade the American people of something really pretty simple, which is that the president acted criminally and extorted in the way a mob boss would extort somebody, a vulnerable foreign country,” Himes said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “it’s probably best not to use Latin words to explain it.”
Another Intelligence member, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Democrats have “evidence of an extortion scheme using taxpayer dollars to ask a foreign government to investigate the president’s opponent.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a third Intelligence member, argued that Trump withholding aid while demanding Ukraine carry out the investigations amounts to “a very strong case of bribery.”
“And the Constitution is very clear: treason, bribery or acts of omission. In this case, it’s clearly one of those,” Speier said on ABC’s “This Week.”
All three lawmakers are allies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), though Pelosi has walked a fine line since announcing the impeachment inquiry in late September. She’s argued the importance of investigating allegations that Trump abused his office, while being careful to say Democrats haven’t yet reached any conclusions about whether his actions merit impeachment.
And not all Democrats on Capitol Hill are adopting the more direct extortion and bribery language. Some are concerned that Trump and his allies will easily parry allegations of those specific crimes by trumpeting simple claims that “no extortion” and “no bribery” took place.
“No collusion” became a familiar refrain from Trump during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election interference, and the president has insisted there was “no quid pro quo” with Ukraine.