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What you need to know about impeachment


With all the talk about the possibility of impeachment of President Trump, we would like to explain how the process works and what exactly it means. Get the facts about how the process of removing a sitting President, Vice President and/or any and all civil officer of the United States government from office unfolds.

The right to impeach public officials is secured by the U.S. Constitution in Article I, which indicates the grounds for impeachment to be conviction of treason, bribery, or other “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The seemingly endless wrongdoing encompassed by the Constitution’s stipulation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is vast. Abuse of power in office fits this category. In truth though, impeachment is not subject to judicial review so virtually anything the majority of Congress agree is a high crime or misdemeanor, is.

A short history of impeachment cases

Since 1797, the House of Representatives has employed impeachment sixteen time, with only two Presidents having actually been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and neither being removed from office. The other federal officials to be impeached include a cabinet member, a senator, a justice of the Supreme Court, and eleven federal judges. Out of those, the Senate has convicted and removed seven, all of them judges. Many people erroneously believe Richard Nixon was impeached. Nixon resigned but most historians agree that impeachment and removal were almost a certain outcome if he had not resigned.

There have been thirty-five attempts at impeachment but only nine have come to trial. Due to the fact that it creates a lack of faith in government among many in the public, impeachment is infrequent. Many officials will resign, as Nixon did, rather than face the ignominy of a public trial.

How it all unfolds

The impeachment process begins with a vote in the House of Representatives on the formal accusation or charge leading to the call for impeachment. Impeachment requires a majority vote of the members of the House. This is just the first step of a two-step process. The second step is a trial in the Senate, and for Presidents those trials are presided over by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is important to note that impeachment is a political process, not a criminal proceeding. Questions of partisan politics influencing impeachment proceedings have been raised about the cases brought against President Johnson and President Clinton. In both of those cases, Congress acted based upon accusations of violations of law that would fit under into the category of criminal activity if proven.

Because impeachment is, in fact, a political process, the likelihood of a President being impeached when his/her party controls both houses, as is the case with President Trump, seems very small. Only 1 of 44 previous Presidencies and 1 of 57 previous presidential terms have ended in the President’s termination. Historically at least, the chance of Trump being removed from office is very low.

The talk about a possible impeachment of President Trump may be premature and certainly has its own partisan element to the chatter.

Matthew Nappo

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