WASHINGTON (CBS46) – United States Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday the House will begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on several issues.
Impeachment is a rarely used tool against the United States President. It’s only happened twice and neither time was the president removed from office. Below is a basic guide to impeachment, where it comes from, and where it might end.
What is impeachment?
In the United States, impeachment is a charge of misconduct made against the holder of a public office. Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution provides the legal justification for the removal of a president from office.
“The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Who controls impeachment?
Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the “sole Power of Impeachment.” Thus, any impeachment proceeding will begin in the House of Representatives, traditionally in the House Judiciary Committee.
As an analogy from criminal law, the House would bring the impeachment charges, like an indictment.
What happens if a president is impeached by the House of Representatives?
Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution states “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments…no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.”
Continuing the analogy from before, the 100-member Senate serves as the jury that will decide the fate of an impeached official. The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would preside over an impeachment hearing before the Senate.
What happens if a president is convicted in the Senate?
This would be a first in American history as no president has ever been convicted on impeachment charges. President Andrew Johnson came the closes after the Civil War when he was impeached and was acquitted in the Senate by just one vote. President Bill Clinton was impeached in the late 1990’s and acquitted by the Senate.
Officially, Article 1, Section 3 states, “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to Law.”
Put another way, impeachment would only apply to removing a president or public official from office; that person could still face criminal proceedings arising from their time in office or before they were in office.
History of Impeachment:
Historically speaking, only two United States Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. As mentioned earlier, both were impeached by the House, but later acquitted by the Senate.
For Johnson, he was fighting opponents over Reconstruction following the Civil War. After removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached on charges that he violated the Tenure of Office Act. His acquittal was by one vote, 35-19, one vote short of the two-thirds needed to convict. Johnson’s Democratic Party lost the White House in the following election.
NOTE: The Supreme Court later declared the Tenure of Office Act was invalid.
With Bill Clinton, he was charged with lying under oath to a federal grand jury along with obstruction of justice. The Senate trial of President Clinton lasted five weeks and in the end, he was found not guilty of perjury by a 55-45 vote and the Senate split on obstruction of justice 50-50. Clinton finished out his second term through January 2001, but his party lost the White House in the following election.
Three articles of impeachment were drawn up and passed by the House Judiciary Committee against President Richard Nixon. The charges included obstruction of justice, contempt of Congress, and abuse of power. President Nixon later resigned to avoid a likely removal from office by the Senate.