Washington • Et tu, Mulvaney?
Three weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled the impeachment inquiry with a Latin phrase spoken by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon. "Alea iacta est," she said. The die is cast.
Since then, President Trump has absolved himself by repeating — ad infinitum — some Latin of his own: "There was no quid pro quo." No this for that.
Enter Mick Mulvaney, deus ex machina, to destroy Trump’s defense. The president’s (still) acting chief of staff briefed reporters Thursday and, in flagrante delicto, admitted Trump committed the sine qua non of a quid pro quo.
Mulvaney said there was "no question" that one of the reasons Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine was to force Ukraine to investigate "corruption" related to the Democratic Party. "And that is absolutely appropriate," Mulvaney argued. "We do that all the time with foreign policy."
Thus did the White House admit — ipso facto — to the exact crime Trump is accused of in the impeachment inquiry. “No quid pro quo” became “quid pro quo — so?” (a.k.a., quid apropos).
Mulvaney's modus operandi is clear enough: The White House must be in extremis realizing that depositions to Congress by administration officials are proving a de facto quid pro quo. Trump needs a new defense.
To be fair, Mulvaney didn't admit a quid pro Joe (trading military aid for dirt on the Democratic front-runner) but a quid pro down-low (trading military aid for dirt supporting a conspiracy theory about Democrats). Still, the transcript of Trump's call with the Ukrainian president makes clear it was a quid pro combo.
In a sense, Mulvaney is correct when he says "we do that all the time." Trump's tenure has been one big quid pro. He decreed Thursday that next year's Group of Seven gathering of world leaders must be at the Doral resort he owns in a clear quid pro cash flow for the Trump Organization. His funneling of government business to Mar-a-Lago has been a quid pro chateau. Having the U.S. military patronize his Scotland property is a quid pro Glasgow, and Vice President Pence's hawking of Trump's Ireland property is a blatant quid pro brogue. Trump's Washington hotel rakes in lobbyists' and foreign governments' cash in a quid pro dough, and government funds paid to his New York and New Jersey properties complete the quid pro portfolio.
This benefits not only Trump but his sons, in what might be called a quid pro slow (or a quid pro I dunno). Donald Trump Jr.'s protests about Biden family nepotism this week, while ignoring his own, can only be termed a quid pro bozo. Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, last week floated a quid pro whistleblow: He's clearing out career professionals (prospective whistleblowers) by slashing the NSC staff. The administration also tried to block cooperation with the inquiry, in a quid pro Pompeo. And then there's Trump's decision to let Rudolph Giuliani take over U.S. foreign policy: a quid pro schmoe.
Mulvaney, in his appearance Thursday, attempted a quid pro John Doe, pretending that he didn't know the names of the officials testifying to Congress. The attorney general, William Barr, has trashed his principles to give Trump a quid pro ego.
Trump has been doing this sort of thing since a quid pro big toe kept him out of Vietnam. He abandoned gun-safety plans after meeting with the NRA, a quid pro ammo. His voter-suppression efforts are a quid pro Jim Crow. Evangelical Christians tolerate his immorality in exchange for his judicial nominees, a quid pro Roe. Much of his presidency has been a quid pro Moscow.
He trades in false claims (quid pro Pinocchio) and plugs for friendly Fox News hosts (quid pro puppet show). And his requiring of constant flattery from underlings (quid pro braggadocio) has turned the West Wing into a quid pro freak show.
Because impeachment has made us all Latin speakers, I asked my longtime classics consultant, Vanessa, to translate into genuine Latin some of Trump's trade-offs:
Quid pro impendio (this for payment).
Quid pro deverticulo (this for a resort).
Quid pro luto (this for dirt).
Quid pro vitio (this for a crime).
Quid pro reo (this for a sinner).
Quid pro imperio (this for power).
Giving Giuliani responsibility for anything? A blatant quid pro asino (this for a fool). But that's pro forma for a president who sold his soul (quid pro animo) and made his office a quid pro mimo: this for a farce.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.