Was there a "quid pro quo" between the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and his Ukrainian counterpart?
That is the question around which the investigation of a telephone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, turned, which led the House of Representatives to approve an impeachment against the US president on Wednesday.RELATED
And the answer to that question is the key to determining whether Trump committed abuse of power by linking a millionaire military aid to Ukraine with the request for an investigation against Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, who worked with the company of Ukrainian gas Burisma.
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That there was "quid pro quo" is what the Democratic opposition affirms that it was demonstrated with the investigation carried out in the Lower House and that now led to a political trial in which it will be carried out in the Senate and that it could end with the impeachment of the president.
But Trump and his allies deny it. The president has tirelessly repeated that the conversation with Zelensky, which occurred on July 25, was "perfect."
The complaint focuses on a call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
"There was no quid pro quo," is the phrase repeated by the president and his allies as the main defense.
But what is the origin of the expression "quid pro quo" and what does it really mean?
The secret whistleblower
The parliamentary investigation began amid the scandal that unleashed the complaint of an unidentified official of the security agencies about the alleged abuse of power committed by Trump during the phone call with Zelensky.
That conversation took place shortly after the White House froze the transfer of a millionaire aid package to Ukraine that Congress had approved.
According to those who accuse the president, Trump wanted to condition the transfer of aid to Ukraine making public an investigation into the family of who is emerging as its main political rival in the face of the 2020 elections, Joe Biden.
For his part, Biden (father), who leads the polls in the Democratic Party primaries, denies Trump's accusations.
Gordon Sondland, appointed by Trump as ambassador to the EU as well as in charge of politics with Ukraine, testified before Congress that there was "quid pro quo."
The government that made a "transcript" (actually notes) of the controversial conversation public at the end of September has always maintained that Trump is innocent.
"Read the transcript" is the last mantra of those who defend the president. Their accusers point out that those notes are quite incriminating.
In them the president is quoted, at the time that Zelensky mentions military aid, saying: "We need you to do us a favor." And he goes on to talk about the alleged corruption of Biden.
For the critics of the president there is the "quid pro quo", an exchange of favors in American political jargon.
Legal experts told The New York Times that the term usually refers to "a corrupt exchange" and appears frequently in cases of bribery, extortion and sexual harassment.
"Quid pro quo" did not always mean an exchange of favors.
But despite being one of the most used Latin expressions today, the original meaning of "quid pro quo" is not what most people give it today.
"Quid" and "quo" mean the same thing, and they are two different ways of saying "something."
"Quid pro quo" literally means "something for something" or "one thing for another." In this, everyone agrees.
However, that "something for something" did not always mean an exchange of favors.
According to the Latin expert at Boston University James Uden, the phrase first appeared in the Middle Ages and was used in two very different environments: pharmaceutical and English contract law.
"Medication prescriptions in the ancient and medieval world could contain all kinds of ingredients: plants, animal products, spices, minerals," explains the academic.
If an apothecary did not have all the ingredients available to mix the medication he needed, he used a list of allowed substitutes. That list was called a "quid pro quo."
This meaning of the term – meaning one thing instead of another – is the one that is still used in the Spanish language.
According to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, "quid pro quo" means "something that substitutes something equivalent."
It can also denote a confusion: an "error that consists in taking someone or something for another person or thing."
A third meaning is a "thing that is received as compensation" for something equivalent. The latter is the closest to the definition in English.
In English, the expression means "if you give me, I give you".
The Oxford English Dictionary notes that "quid pro quo" means "one thing in exchange for or as an exchange for another." The equivalent of the English expression: "tit for tat" (give and take).
The Merriam-Webster American dictionary also defines it as "something given or received in exchange for something else."
In English contract law, the other medieval origin of the term, the expression meant something quite different.
David Seipp, a professor at the Boston University School of Law (USA), notes that "quid pro quo" was a phrase used in the fifteenth century in cases where there was no written agreement.
It meant "your word against mine," explains the expert.
However, over time the concept began to be used legally to denote an exchange.
According to the legal dictionary The Law Dictionary, "quid pro quo" means "the delivery of something of value in exchange for something else of value."
Seipp points out that it was frequently used in the context of corruption cases, to talk about an illegal or inappropriate exchange.
In the 16th century, apothecaries began using the expression to indicate that one medication had been replaced by another.
Why was the use of the phrase changing?
A clue of how it was acquiring a more murky meaning is given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, in its explanation of the origin of the term.
The book details that in the 16th century the apothecaries began using the expression to indicate that one medication had been replaced by another, "either intentionally (and fraudulently) or accidentally."
Thus, that "something for something" began to lose its neutral meaning and became synonymous with something more perverse.
Now it will be the US congressmen who will define whether in the telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky there was, in effect, a "quid pro quo."
And if that "something for something" was an exchange of favors, or if, as Trump says, one thing is being made to look like another.
Trump insists on the transcript of his conversation exonerating him. His critics believe that it is proof that he is guilty.
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