Impeachments of federal officials

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The impeachment process allows Congress the ability to remove the president, vice president and other federal officials from office. The process was established by the Founding Fathers, following the English idea of impeachment, but the intention is only to remove a person from public office, not to charge on criminal offenses.[1]



The English system of impeachment began as a way to keep the king in check. Parliament was able to displace the king and the ministers appointed by the king, in order to hold the government responsible to the people. The first charges of "high crimes and misdemeanors" occurred in 1376, and though the use of impeachments in England varied over the centuries, it was a key part of the United States Constitutional Convention.[1][2] The constitutional provision to have the executive removable from office was determined before those at the convention even decided the executive would be one person.[2]

In the Constitution

See also: United States Constitution

The following articles of the United States Constitution are related to the ability to impeach:[1]

Article I

The U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 2 states:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.[3]

United States Constitution

The U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 3 states:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

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.[3]

United States Constitution

Article II

The U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 2 states:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.[3]

United States Constitution

The U.S. Constitution Article II, Section 4 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.[3]

United States Constitution

Article III

The U.S. Constitution Article III, Section 2 states:

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.[3]

United States Constitution



The Andrew Johnson Impeachment Committee
The process, in order, for the impeachment and conviction of a federal official is as follows:[4][5]

U.S. House

  1. Initiation of Charges
  2. Committee investigation (typically the Judiciary Committee)
  3. Committee vote
  4. U.S. House vote
  5. Senate notification of House action

U.S. Senate

  1. Plea entry
  2. Trial by the Senate
  3. Senate vote on judgement (requires two-thirds vote to pass)

Grounds for impeachment

According to the Constitution, the grounds for impeachment are charges of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

House charges

Only the United States House of Representatives has the power to decide if impeachment is necessary and, if so, what charges are to be tried by the United States Senate by passing articles of impeachment. Charges can be brought up similar to an individual bill or as part of through the House authorization of an inquiry. The United States House Committee on the Judiciary has priority on impeachment proceedings where the committee decides whether charges should be heard by the entire House. If the impeachment resolution passes the House, members are chose as the prosecutors for the trial in the United States Senate. The number of members chosen as prosecutors have traditionally been an odd number and have been members of the Judiciary Committee.[6]

Senate trial

The United States Senate is charged with conducting the trial of impeachment. Two-thirds of the present senators must agree with the impeachment charges. The Senate also determines whether the subject should be simply removed from office or be banned from holding future offices of "honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." A separate vote is necessary to exclude the convicted from holding future office. Additionally, the president cannot pardon an official convicted in an impeachment trial.[1]

An impeachment conviction does not ensure criminal charges are brought against the convicted, just as an acquittal of criminal charges excuse a convicted impeachment.[1]

Impeached federal officials

Only three federal officials have ever been impeached, including two presidents, but none were removed from office. Twelve federal judges have been impeached, with eight being convicted and forced from office. Charges were brought up on three more federal judges, but charges were dropped after the judges resigned their positions. One U.S. senator was impeached leading to the precedent that members of Congress do not fall under the "civil Officers" qualification for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.[6]


Two tickets to the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.

Bill Clinton

President William Jefferson Clinton, the second president to be impeached, was charged by the U.S. House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice on December 19, 1998. The first article of impeachment for perjury passed the House by a vote of 228-206, while the second vote on obstruction of justice passed by 221-212. The charges stemmed an affair Clinton had with White House staffer Monica Lewinski. House Republicans accused Clinton of lying and having others lie, hiding the affair. Two other charges, perjury in regards to an affair with Paula Jones and abuse of power, were rejected by the House.[7] With 708 days remaining in his second term as president, the Senate acquitted Clinton on both charges brought up by the House on February 12, 1999. The perjury charge failed by a vote of 45-55 while the obstruction of justice charge failed on a tied vote of 50-50.[8]

Andrew Johnson

On February 24, 1868, President Andrew Johnson became the first sitting president to be impeached. Following Congress' passage of the Tenure of Office Act, forbidding the president from removing federal officials without the approval of Congress, Johnson suspended Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson hoped to challenge the constitutionality of the Act. The House charged him with violating the Act and passed the impeachment resolution 126-47. Johnson was acquitted by the Senate on May 16, 1868, by a vote of 35-19, one vote short of two-thirds.[9]

Cabinet members

William W. Belknap

Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached on March 2, 1876, on charges of "criminally disregarding his duty as Secretary of War and basely prostituting his high office to his lust for private gain." The charges were passed by the House even though he had given President Ulysses S. Grant resignation papers earlier that day, and he stood trial before the Senate as a former government official, as agreed to by the Senate. He was acquitted of all charges on August 1, 1876. Following the trial, the Senate agreed not to hold trials for government officials who offered resignation.[10]


William Blount

Sen. William Blount of Tennessee was the first official to face impeachment on July 7, 1797, for attempting to incite Native Americans and frontiersmen to attack the Spanish lands of Florida and Louisiana in order to give them to England. Before the impeachment trial, however, the Senate voted to expel Blount. Due to a lack of jurisdiction in Tennessee, the Senate could not bring Blount in for his trial. On December 19, 1798, the Senate voted down a resolution that would allow senators to be impeached. There is no record on whether the resolution was voted down to prevent senators from being impeached or whether those no longer holding "civil office" could be impeached.[11]

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