Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the United Nations in New York March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) Hillary Clinton at the United Nations in March.
(Mike Segar/Reuters)

Given the revelations about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s money machine and potential conflicts of interest, many are arguing that as long as no quid pro quo is found, she will survive. This is not necessarily the case, and some such arguments are an effort to set a bar low enough that even Clinton can stumble over it.

As a legal matter, it’s not necessary to find a quid pro quo. “The most significant and powerful forms of corruption today are precisely those that thrive without depending upon quid pro quos for their effectiveness.” That was Harvard professor Lawrence Lessing — talking about the Bob McDonnell case. Oh yes, that. Back then there was a similar false comfort in the lack of a quid pro quo. “Is there proof that [Jonnie] Williams, in giving those gifts, demanded reciprocation for his company? No. At least not yet. But that doesn’t mean that McDonnell and his family weren’t inclined to look at Williams and Star Scientific more favorably because of the financial assistance they were given.”

And that is essentially what the jury found and why it convicted McDonnell, who was surrounded by a swirl of gifts, benefits, cash and favors — periodically punctuated by a phone call on Jonnie R. Williams Sr.’s behalf. Recall how each side saw the case going into trial:

McDonnell claims his dealings with Williams did not involve any “quid pro quo” — the Latin term used in the law that means one thing for another. McDonnell argues that while he arranged meetings with government officials for Williams and hosted an event at the Executive Mansion to launch Star Scientific’s signature product, such accommodations fall short of [the] sort of benefits historically associated with bribery — government grants and jobs, for example.

Prosecutors counter that an exchange of benefits need not be so specific to be illegal. The McDonnells’ willingness to help Williams on “an as-needed basis” and Williams’s expectation of something in return, whether he received anything or not, qualifies as a quid pro quo, they say.

We know how things worked out there.

As for the Clintons — who are not (yet) in a court of law — the lack of a quid pro quo is an especially poor defense. Hillary destroyed thousands of e-mails about her “private” dealings. Destruction of evidence — not to mention leaving foreign donations off the foundation’s tax returns (recall that McDonnell left the “loans” off bank documents) — tends to underscore that the couple was hiding something and that the evidence in those e-mails or the entities listed on the tax returns would have been incriminating. In the case of the e-mails there is a legal concept known as “spoliation of evidence.” In short, if a court finds that a party has destroyed evidence, it is permissible to assume that it would have proven guilt. (“[C]ourts have long employed the adverse inference jury instruction or ‘spoliation inference,’ to sanction spoliation of evidence. Under this inference, the jury is instructed that it may assume that the lost evidence, if available, would have been unfavorable to the spoliator.”) Again, we are not in court, but the common-sense inference that many voters and the media may make is that destroying the e-mails was in essence a cover-up.

Hillary Clinton’s problems don’t stop there. Even with no quid pro quo, she did not always follow the agreed upon procedure for vetting monies going into the foundation. The Clintons did not disclose some of the subsponsors of Hillary’s own speeches and left out four of Bill’s from disclosure forms. In other words, she broke the rules that were intended to prevent conflicts of interest, which in and of itself is serious malfeasance. Her gross disregard for the appearance of impropriety and for rules that were meant to prevent corruption is stunning.

Finally, there are the donors themselves, who many believe should never have been permitted and still should not be permitted to give money to the Clintons. There was money from Hamas-supporting Qatar and women-abusing Saudi Arabia. There is money from the Russian purchaser of uranium, who can now hand it over to Iran. This suggests there was no one from whom the Clintons would not take money, no matter how shady, depraved or self-interested the giver. Even if no favors were ever given in return, what does this say — I know, this is quaint — about her personal standards?

I can understand why Hillary and friendly pundits might want to concede the distasteful facts no longer in dispute (what choice is there?) and instead erect a new standard for judging her: So long as there is no provable quid pro quo she can be president! That would not be true to avoid a conviction, and it is an inexcusably low standard to impose on someone seeking the presidency. “You can’t prove I’m a crook” is not a convincing defense.