Sometime during every presidential term someone comes calling to impeach the current office holder. There were those who opposed the Vietnam War and wanted Lyndon Johnson impeached. George W. Bush is considered by many to be an alleged war criminal for some of his actions during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and many called for his impeachment during his time in office.

Presidential Impeachments

Only three presidents have been subject to impeachment proceedings in our history.

Andrew Johnson in 1868 violated the Tenure of Office Act by removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Richard Nixon would have certainly been impeached in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal had he not resigned from office. He was later pardoned for any wrong doing by President Gerald Ford.

Bill Clinton (1998-99) was impeached for lying under oath regarding an extramarital affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted by the Senate, Johnson by only one vote, and they were not removed from the office of the presidency.

What is Impeachment?

In Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution it states: "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."

As you can guess the definition of high Crimes and Misdemeanors can be sort of a gray area. But if you are thinking about pursuing impeachment against one of our tarnished elected leaders here is the process:

Impeachment Process

  • Impeachment starts in the House of Representatives. The House Judiciary Committee examines the alleged charges to see if an inquiry is needed and if it should be presented to the full House for a vote.
  • The entire House votes for or against a formal impeachment inquiry. A simple majority is all that’s needed. If the vote is to continue with impeachment then;
  • A House investigation gets underway much like a grand jury to review specific charges and weigh the evidence in question. Each charge is voted on and if passed those charges go for a vote before the whole House.
  • If the full House agrees on even one article of impeachment by a simple majority that article of impeachment can be sent to the Senate for trial.
  • If at least one article of impeachment is approved, the House would technically impeach the President, and the matter would be sent to the Senate. The House would then appoint members of Congress to act as prosecutors during the trail in the Senate.
  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over any impeachment trials conducted in the Senate. The president can choose to appear in person or to leave the trial in the hands of his selected legal team.
  • The trail can be held in front of the full Senate or in front of a selected committee that will report the evidence and their findings to the full Senate for a final vote on removal from office.
  • The Impeachment trial is no different than any other trial in the US. Witnesses are called and questioned, cross-examined, and any other evidence is presented by both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Both sides make closing arguments and any questions from the Senate body are directed to the Chief Justice for consideration during the proceedings.
  • Finally the Senate will deliberate behind closed doors on the evidence and arguments presented. They then vote in public open session to convict or acquit the President. A two-thirds majority of the full Senate is required for a final conviction or acquittal. If 67 sitting Senators vote guilty, the President would be removed from office, and the Vice President would fill the remainder of the President’s term of office.
  • The verdict of the Senate is final and no further appeal is available to the President.

Some Final Thoughts

As you can see this process is not exactly a “kangaroo court.” It’s a very involved process, as it should be, when you are considering removing any high-ranking official from elected office.

There is a vast difference between disagreeing with a politician’s agenda and high crimes. So while it may warrant cheers from the party loyalists to bang the table with impeachment rhetoric, getting it done is another story.

It would be nice if we all just got along i.e. Rodney King but we don’t. Every President is going to upset someone. But, thanks to the 22nd amendment of our US Constitution, Presidents can only maintain their reign of terror for eight years. So I guess you could say we have impeachment automatically.

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