The exploding Ukrainian whistleblower scandal could once again throw President Donald Trump into legal turmoil, wrote former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade for The Daily Beast on Saturday.
Specifically, she argued, prosecutors could theoretically charge the president under federal bribery and extortion laws, based on the facts laid out by recent reporting.
“The facts here still need to be fleshed out, but the gist is easy enough to understand,” wrote McQuade. “Trump allegedly has demanded that Ukraine launch an investigation into Biden if it wants to receive the military aid that has already been promised. If true, this conduct would be a classic abuse of power that is considered criminal when committed by a public official.”
“The federal bribery statute makes it a crime for a public official to demand anything of value in exchange for performing an official act,” continued McQuade. “A statute known as the Hobbs Act defines extortion as obtaining property from another, with his consent, under color of official right. “Property” is defined to mean anything of value, tangible or intangible. The essence of both crimes is a demand by a public official to obtain something for himself to which he is not entitled in exchange for performing an official act of his office.”
Meanwhile, McQuade wrote, extortion cases are something she has had first-hand experience with.
“When I served as U.S. Attorney in Detroit, I supervised the prosecution of the city’s former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and some of his associates in a public corruption scheme that included extortion,” wrote McQuade. “Kilpatrick was convicted of using his office as mayor to extort municipal contractors by demanding that they include his friend Bobby Ferguson in public contracts and share with Ferguson a portion of the revenue. If contractors wanted the multi-million dollar public works contracts, they were required to pay off the mayor’s friend. Ferguson’s share of these contracts totaled $83 million. These types of schemes are sometimes referred to as ‘pay-to-play.'”
“Here, if the reporting is correct, Trump may be similarly committing bribery and extortion by using the power of his office to demand a thing of value, dirt on Biden, in exchange for an official act, the provision of $250 million in military aid,” continued McQuade. “This is precisely the kind of old-fashioned corruption scheme that the bribery and extortion statutes were designed to punish.”
“Instead of requiring 400 pages of factual recitations and legal analysis as the Mueller investigation did, a summary of these corruption allegations would be fairly simple: Trump used the power of his office to threaten to withhold a benefit in exchange for a thing of value in violation of federal law,” concluded McQuade. “By enacting the bribery and extortion statutes, Congress has proclaimed that this type of conduct is not behavior that we should tolerate in public officials generally. We should no more tolerate this abuse of power when the president does it.”
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