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Leaked focus group results reveal Democrats' impeachment messaging plans, weak legal case


They're trying to see what sticks

Alex Wong/Getty Images

What happened to quid pro quo?

As political observers noticed this week, the Democrats have a new messaging strategy in their impeachment inquiry of President Trump: accuse him of "bribery" in his dealings with Ukraine.

The shift came after focus groups in battleground states by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed that voters were less receptive to the Latin legal term "quid pro quo" (which means this for that) than to charges of "bribery." The latter, according to sources familiar with the focus group results, is likelier to persuade swing voters, said National Review.

"It's probably best not to use Latin words"

As the Washington Post points out, House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) was the first to announce Democrats' intentions to retire "quid pro quo" during an appearance on "Meet the Press" last week where he said "it's probably best not to use Latin words" when describing the administration's negotiations with Ukrainian officials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently began accusing Trump of "bribery" during a press conference on Thursday. "Talking Latin around here: E pluribus unum — from many, one. Quid pro quo — bribery. And that is in the Constitution, attached to the impeachment proceedings," she said.

As Pelosi noted, a likely reason why Democrats have replaced quid pro quo with "bribery" is that the latter is one of only two crimes cited in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. Article II of the Constitution states that the president "shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

It's imprecise

However, the Post also noted that even Hines recognizes that while "bribery" may be a politically useful term for Democrats, it may be imprecise to describe the allegations.

"Abuse of power is not necessarily a concept that most Americans run around thinking about," he said. "In this case, the abuse of power was some combination of bribery and extortion."

It is also unclear what Democrats argue is the alleged bribe in question since Democrats do not have any witnesses with direct knowledge of Trump's state of mind during his dealings with Ukraine and foreign aid is regularly conditioned upon specific actions by other countries, including combatting corruption.

They're trying to see what sticks

Republicans were quick to point out that the change in messaging underscores that Democrats do not have a compelling legal case against President Trump and are, instead, relying on emotional appeals.

"They're trying a different narrative to see if that works," said House Intelligence Republican Brad Wenstrup (Ohio). "'Quid pro quo' was squashed. If it wasn't, they would still be saying it, right? And, so, now they'll try a different term."

Further bolstering the argument that Democrats do not intend on making a serious legal argument, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has argued, is the fact that Democrats can accuse the president of bribery without having to prove he actually broke the law.

"This is not a bribery prosecution in a judicial court. This is impeachment, in which there is no burden to prove a quid pro quo beyond a reasonable doubt. The House is not required to establish a felony offense, such as extortion or bribery."

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