20 Things You Need To Know About Impeachment

Posted by , Updated on May 25, 2024

President Donald Trump is currently facing a process that could result in his removal from office. The key issue is his alleged improper request for Ukraine’s help to boost his chances of re-election in 2020.

Things are still at a very early stage and no one can tell what will eventually happen. However, this scandal has introduced us to a very old political and legislative process that most of us weren’t familiar with: impeachment.

Impeachment is a tool used to oust a sitting U.S. president from power. More accurately, any official convicted by the Senate faces immediate removal from office, not just the president. But how does this thing work?

If you want to know everything about it, this list of the 20 Things You Need To Know About Impeachment that follows will help you get an idea of what’s currently going on with the country’s political scene.


What is impeachment?

The full definition or explanation of impeachment would probably need a list in itself. To cut it short, though, impeachment is the congressional ability to remove a president from office in case he has committed “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Surprisingly, no president has ever been removed from the office in this way.


What are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?


The inclusion of “other high crimes and misdemeanors” gives the legislative branch flexibility to investigate an array of allegations.

However, the exact definition of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not defined in the Constitution itself.


How does an impeachment work?

A president cannot be impeached if the full House doesn’t vote first for the approval of the articles of impeachment. Then, one article of impeachment has to be drafted for each alleged offense.
In the House, if a simple majority votes in favor of impeachment, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority is required to convict and remove a president from office.

How does impeachment begin?


This has been one of the most perplexing aspects of the current debate over impeaching Trump. In past presidential impeachments, the House would formally vote to authorize the Judiciary Committee to initiate impeachment proceedings.

However, this step has been skipped on occasion in the impeachment of judges. So, how exactly does an impeachment begin, you ask? It might depend on how much the media likes (or does not like) a certain president. (But this is only a guess.)


British influence

The Founding Fathers modeled the impeachment clause after a system in Britain.

That system authorized Parliament to investigate royal advisers and other higher officials.


Kings can't be impeached


Ironically, the British king was above the law and could not be impeached or found guilty of any crime.

When King Charles I was tried before the Rump Parliament of the New Model Army in 1649, he denied that they had any right to legally indict him. He claimed that his power was given by God and no human had the power to impeach against his king and thus against God.


No exclusions in America


With this example in mind, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention chose to include an impeachment procedure in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, which could be applied to any government official.

Actually, they explicitly mentioned the president, to ensure there would be no ambiguity.


No prisoners


Impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one.

Congress has no power to impose criminal penalties on impeached presidents or officials. However, criminal courts could try to punish an official if they consider that an official has committed common crimes.


The 19 impeachments


The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings 62 times since 1789. The House, however, has impeached only 19 federal officers.

Of the 19 impeachments by the House, two cases did not come to trial because the individuals had left office; seven were acquitted, and eight officials were convicted, all of whom were judges.


How many presidents have been impeached?


Two of the 19 total impeached federal officers were presidents: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

Both presidents were later acquitted by the Senate.


Andrew Johnson's case


In 1868, the House approved 11 articles of impeachment against President Johnson. Most of them revolved around his defiance of the Tenure of Office Act, which restricted the president’s power to dismiss Cabinet members.

To be more specific, President Johnson had removed Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, from office. He attempted to replace Stanton with Brevet Major General Lorenzo Thomas.

Johnson became the first American president to be impeached back in 1868. He would remain the only American president to face a Senate trial for over a century until Bill Clinton became the second in 1998.


Bill Clinton's case


In 1998, the House approved two articles of impeachment against Clinton. One of them accused the president of committing perjury in grand jury testimony when questioned about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.

The second alleged obstruction of justice was to hide evidence in that case. It was a highly legalistic argument, which helped buttress the false public impression that, without “crimes,” there can be no impeachment.

President Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. The votes in the Senate to remove him from office did not even reach a majority.


The 17 "other" trials


Most of the 17 other impeached federal officers were judges: thirteen district court judges, one court of appeals judge (who also sat on the Commerce Court), and one Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Further, one was a Cabinet secretary and the other was a Senator.


The Watergate scandal


President Richard Nixon faced possible impeachment on the grounds of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress in relation to the Watergate scandal.

The impeachment was not completed, though, as he resigned from office in 1974 before the House voted on the articles of impeachment. 


The long history of Republican presidents


This may sound like a hyperbolic claim President Trump would make, but it’s actually true that Democrats have tried to impeach every elected Republican President since Eisenhower.

Since January 20, 1961, when Eisenhower was leaving the office, Democrats have introduced impeachment articles against every elected Republican president.


Obama was almost impeached too


There were unsuccessful attempts to initiate impeachment proceedings against Barack Obama as well.

One of the attempts included the false claim that Obama was born outside the United States. Further, some people alleged that there was a White House cover-up after the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Last but not least, Obama was accused of failing to enforce immigration laws. However, no list of articles of impeachment was ever drawn up and proposed to the House Judiciary Committee.


Efforts to impeach George W. Bush


Due to the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush was the target of impeachment efforts as well.

Fortunately for him, none of these efforts advanced past the hearing stage.


Why is President Trump facing an impeachment inquiry?


The Trump-Ukraine scandal began in September 2019 with the revelation that an intelligence officer had filed a whistleblower complaint to the intelligence community inspector general, alleging wrongdoing on the part of Trump.

The whistleblower, who we now know was a member of the CIA and detailed to the National Security Council, claimed that a phone call in July 2019 between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky set off alarm bells in the intelligence community.

This phone call started the whole thing.


What happens if the House votes to impeach Trump?


If President Trump were impeached, Vice President Mike Pence would immediately take the oath of office and become president.

Should Mr. Pence get impeached too, then the Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi, would take the top job.


What are the chances that Trump will be impeached?


Predictions are not easy at this early stage of the impeachment, but if Trump is indeed impeached, he will become the first American president to be removed from the White House via this impeachment.

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