Impeaching a United States President

What the Constitution says and what to look for as House inquiry goes forward

By Ryan Kambich | Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of wikicommons Two presidents have been formally impeached by the House of Representatives. Neither President was convicted or removed after trial

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a formal Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald Trump last Thursday. Here is a breakdown of how the process works.

Constitutional Process

The impeachment of a president refers to the constitutional process of investigation and indictment undertaken by the U.S. House of Representatives when the president is suspected of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The impeachment and removal process serves as a constitutional check by the legislative branch on the executive branch to provide oversight and prevent wrongdoing by the president. “Impeachment” and “removal” are two separate processes, undertaken by the House and the Senate, respectively.

It is important to note that the impeachment process is a political process, whereas the removal process is a legal process, in which the accused has the formal rights and liberties laid out in the Constitution.

— Upon suspicion of wrongdoing by the president, the House will open an inquiry and specific House committees will begin to investigate the claims through calling witnesses, hearing testimony from relevant parties and engaging in general fact-finding. In this way, the House serves a similar role to a grand jury in a criminal investigation, considering evidence and making a decision on whether or not an indictment of a president is warranted.

— If congressional investigators believe they have sufficient evidence of executive wrongdoing, they will write up articles of impeachment outlining charges against the president. The full House of Representatives will consider the articles and take a vote. If a majority of the House’s 435 members (at least 218 members) vote in favor of the articles, the president is formally indicted.

— Impeachment does not signal guilt or the automatic removal of a president. It simply means the House of Representatives believes there is sufficient evidence of presidential wrongdoing. It is possible for a president to be impeached without being removed from office.

— Following impeachment, a trial is conducted in the Senate in which evidence is presented and witnesses are questioned. The trial is overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, with the 100 senators acting as “jurors” in the case. At this stage, the president has the opportunity to present a defense and confront witnesses.

— After the presentation of evidence, the Senate votes on the removal of the president. If at least two-thirds of the Senate (67 senators) vote in favor of removal, the president is removed from office and the vice president assumes the role of president. If a two-thirds supermajority is not reached, the president is not removed.

Past Presidential          Impeachment Proceedings

— Two presidents have been formally impeached by the House of Representatives. Both were acquitted by the Senate and not removed. Only one other president has faced similar impeachment inquiries.

— President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives on March 2, 1868. He was the first U.S. president ever to be impeached.

The House brought 11 articles of impeachment against Johnson related to his removal of Secretary of War Edwin W. Stanton which allegedly violated the Tenure of Office Act of 1867. The Senate tried Johnson but failed to remove him — the 35-19 vote fell one vote short of the two-thirds requirement.

— President Richard Nixon was the subject of a formal impeachment investigation by the House for alleged connections to the cover-up of the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel by operatives associated with his reelection campaign. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, prior to a vote on articles of impeachment. Most experts agree Nixon would have been impeached and likely would have been removed had he not resigned.

— President Bill Clinton became the second president ever formally impeached by the House. He was impeached on Oct. 8, 1998, for allegedly lying under oath during a congressional deposition and on charges of obstruction of justice. Following a 45-55 vote on lying under oath and a 50-50 vote on obstruction of justice, Clinton was not removed from office and completed his term.