Just the Facts

Five Facts on the History of Impeachment

By Emma Petasis
May 29, 2019 | Blog

Impeachment is the first of several steps taken to remove a government official from office. Although infrequently used, it has occurred several times in the history of the United States. Here are the facts. 

1. The process of impeachment does not necessarily lead to removal from office. 

Impeachment is the constitutional process that empowers a legislative body to level charges against a government official. Impeachment is a statement of charges, similar to an indictment in criminal law, and does not automatically mean removal from office. Impeachment begins with a vote in the House of Representatives on whether a government official, such as the president, has committed an impeachable offense. The Constitution identifies these offenses as treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors – which gives flexibility to investigate various offenses.[1]If the majority of the House votes in favor of impeachment, the trial will go to the Senate and a two-thirds majority is needed to remove the president or public official from office.[2]

2. President Andrew Johnson was the first president in a U.S. impeachment trial.

President Andrew Johnson succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his death, but he was eventually impeached. He was consistently at odds with Congress most notably over his leniency to Confederate state and willingness to allow them to pass laws that prohibited freed blacks from voting. But the specific act that led to his impeachment was his attempt to   replace the sitting Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. After this act, Congress alleged President Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act by replacing a federal appointee without consultation from Congress. Producing 11 articles of impeachment, the Supreme Court voted and determined this act was unconstitutional, but only after he finished his term.[3]

3. Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could begin impeachment proceedings.  

The Watergate scandal was what led to articles of impeachment and ultimately the resignation of President Nixon. The FBI determined that aides to President Nixon were responsible for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. Tape recordings and testimony later revealed Nixon tried to cover up these crimes. After the White House ignored multiple Congressional subpoenas, the House Judiciary Committee approved three impeachment articles against Nixon. Nixon would resign the following month and Vice President Gerald Ford would become president.[4]

4. President Bill Clinton was found not guilty on both articles of impeachment.

President Clinton was the second president in American history to be impeached and finished his term, following Andrew Johnson. The House charged President Clinton with lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and obstructing justice. Initially denying the allegations, Clinton later admitted to the extramarital affair. After the House impeached Clinton, the Senate failed to garner the majority needed for prosecution and the President was found not guilty.[5]

5. Many other presidents have faced impeachment threats.

Congress has not moved to impeach any other sitting president, but President Obama, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover are among the many presidents who were threatened with impeachment during their terms. Calls for impeaching President Trump have centered on the allegation that he obstructed and impeded justice during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Although some Democratic members of Congress – and one Republican, Justin Amash – have called for President Trump’s impeachment, Democratic congressional leadership has been reluctant to pursue the proceedings.[6]







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