Impeachment is the first step in removing the president of the United States or any other top-ranking official in the government. Though he has been in office for less than two weeks, President Donald Trump already faces calls for his removal, in addition to the numerous and massive protests, rallies and demonstrations against him.
What is impeachment?
During the inaugural oath, a new president agrees to uphold the responsibilities of the office and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
If a president is found to have abused his or her power or committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” per Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, he or she could be impeached.
In the Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton listed breaking a law, abusing power and violating the public’s trust as impeachable acts.
- Impeachment does not mean removal from office. The president facing impeachment would have to be found guilty of a criminal act in order to be ousted.
- The first president to be impeached was No. 7, Andrew Johnson. He was one Senate vote shy of a guilty verdict for violation of Tenure of Office Act, which said that no president could remove a member of the Cabinet without approval from the Senate, after he illegally removed the secretary of war.
- The second president to be impeached was Bill Clinton in 1998. That happened during a scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky’s leaked conversations admitting that she had an affair with the commander-in-chief. Clinton was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with that probe, but the Senate found him not guilty.
- President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the infamous Watergate scandal in 1974, was not impeached — he resigned before the Senate had a chance.
In 1970, then-Rep. Gerald R. Ford defined impeachable offenses as "whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."
Congress has issued articles of impeachment for “exceeding the constitutional bounds of the powers of the office,” “behavior grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office” and “employing the power of the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.”
Impeachment, a charge of misconduct, does not immediately signal removal from office.
Starting in the House of Representatives, an article of impeachment can be introduced like any other bill, per Article II of the Constitution: “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.”
The information in the article of impeachment is the basis of the case against the accused official, such as a president. The House Judiciary Committee will decide if a resolution to impeach is in order.
Then the full House has to vote on each article of impeachment, requiring a majority to approve the article, which is then sent to the Senate for trial.