HOW DOES THE PRESIDENTIAL IMPEACHMENT PROCESS WORK?
News 9 - September 13, 2023 6:54 am
President Joe Biden
Articles of impeachment have been filed against many presidents throughout American history, including Harry S. Truman, Herbert Hoover, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and more but those filings rarely make it to the point where action is taken.
Current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he is directing a House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over his family’s business dealings.
Former President Donald Trump was impeached twice during his time in office but was ultimately acquitted in both cases. Trump joined Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as the only Presidents to be formally impeached.
The term impeachment is often thrown around in political discourse as a means of removing political enemies but the actual act of impeachment requires a high bar of evidence.
Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump
What Is Impeachment?
Impeachment is the process of bringing charges against a government official for wrongdoing. The House of Representatives has the sole power to bring charges or articles of impeachment against the President, vice president, and all other civil officers. The House then adopts the articles by a simple majority vote.
If the vote is in favor of the articles then the President or official has been impeached but it doesn’t end there.
Now, the impeachment goes to the Senate where a trial may be held. A committee of representatives, called “managers,” act as prosecutors before the Senate and in the case of presidential impeachment trials, the chief justice of the United States presides.
The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote by the Senate to convict and if the official is convicted they are removed from office. The impeached official can also be disqualified from holding public offices in the future. If the Senate does not convict, then the official remains in office but with impeachment on their record.
There is no appeal process according to Senate.gov.
What Can Presidents Be Impeached For?
As stated in the Constitution impeachment articles can be brought up for “treason and bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The Constitutional Definition of Treason:
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” – Article III, Section 3, Clause 1:
In line with treason is the act of seditious conspiracy, rebellion, insurrection, or advocating to overthrow the Government. SEE U.S. Legal Code
While not directly defined in the Constitution bribery is generally defined in the U.S. as the offering, soliciting, giving, or receiving money or any item of value with the intent of influencing the actions of an individual who holds a public office or serves in a legal role.
While treason and bribery are fairly straightforward in their meaning the wording of “high crimes and misdemeanors” broadly covers a list of potential grounds. In 1974, the U.S. Judiciary Committee referred to the phrase as a ‘term of art’ or jargon that loosely means to misbehave or act in a way to betray the public trust.
Alexander Hamilton described them as “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
While only three Presidents have been impeached, several other public officials, mostly judges, have been removed from office on charges of chronic intoxication, perjury, tax evasion, making false statements to a grand jury, and conspiracy to solicit a bribe.
Overall, strong evidence is required to achieve both an impeachment by the House and a conviction by the Senate. A supermajority of 67 votes in the Senate is a high bar and would most likely need overwhelming condemnation of a public act from an official’s own party and allies.
What Have Presidents Been Impeached For?
President Andrew Johnson was impeached mostly for his effort to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and appoint Lorenzo Thomas to the role which violated the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson was also charged with violating the Command of Army Act and an allegation that he attempted to “disgrace the Congress of the United States”. The Senate did not receive the majority necessary to remove Johnson from office.
President Clinton was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice following the public scandal between himself and Monica Lewinsky. The articles of impeachment against him stated that Clinton had lied when he denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, who was a White House intern. Clinton was impeached on both articles on December 19, 1998. Neither article received the majority necessary to remove Clinton from office.
President Donald Trump is the only president to be impeached twice, once in 2019 and again in 2021.
During the first impeachment, Trump was charged with “Abuse of Power” and accused of pressuring Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into his political rivals while withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in U.S. security aid to the country. Trump was also charged with “Obstruction of Congress” for directing White House officials to not comply with subpoenas. He was impeached on both charges on December 18, 2019. The Senate found Trump not guilty of abuse of power, by a vote of 48–52 and not guilty of obstruction of Congress, by a vote of 47–53 on February 5, 2020.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives a second time in 2021 after losing his re-election bid. This time Trump was charged with “Incitement of Insurrection” after several Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6.
The Senate found Trump not guilty of incitement of insurrection, by a vote of 57 for conviction and 43 against, 10 votes below the 67 or two-thirds needed for a supermajority.
Former President Richard Nixon resigned after Congress started the impeachment process against him in 1974 for his role in the Watergate Scandal. In September of that year Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes against the United States that he might have committed while president.