How Impeachment Works

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Recent Updates[edit]

  • 2/22/2017: Richmond, California, City Council issued a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Trump. Although this resolution has no legal authority, it serves to create pressure on Congress to pursue impeachment proceedings.[1]

Defining Impeachment[edit]

The process that allows the President of the United States—or other officials—to be removed from office is called impeachment. The official can also receive a criminal or civil punishment as a result of impeachment.

In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton defined impeachable offenses as “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."[2] This would include offenses that are described in Corruption and Societal Consequences of Trumpism.

Impeachment Process[edit]

There are two primary components of the impeachment process:[3]

1. The House of Representatives files a charge of misconduct against the official and then votes on whether to impeach. A simple majority (218 votes) of the House is sufficient to advance the proceedings against the official.

2. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the Senate then has to move to try the impeachment case, just like a case is tried in court. In order to secure a conviction, two-thirds (67 votes) of senators must vote to impeach. If the official is found guilty, they may be removed from office and never permitted to hold a government position again.

Impeachable Offenses[edit]

Article II of the United States Constitution (Section 4) states that "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."[4] 

Treason[edit]

18 U.S. Code § 2381—Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.[5]

US Constitution: Article III, Section 3, Clause 1

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.[6]

See also: Russia/Hacking

Bribery[edit]

5 U.S. Code § 7342—Receipt and disposition of foreign gifts and decorations

Congress has passed one law giving blanket approval to a set of payments from foreign government entities. Known as the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, it is limited to gifts of “minimal value” (set as of 1981 at $100), educational scholarships and medical treatment, travel entirely outside the country “consistent with the interests of the United States,” or “when it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States.[7]

US Constitution: Emoluments Clause, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”[8]

See also: Corruption

High Crimes and Misdemeanors[edit]

High crimes and misdemeanors can include a lot of different activities, but they often involve misconduct unique to elected officials, such as perjury (lying under oath), abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming, and refusal to obey a lawful order.[9]

Origins
"Since 1386, the English parliament had used 'high crimes and misdemeanors' as one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping 'suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,' granting warrants without cause, and bribery. Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not. The one common denominator in all these accusations was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve."[10]
"For the more than 200 years since the Constitution was adopted, Congress has seriously considered impeachment only 18 times. Thirteen of these cases involved federal judges. The 'high crimes and misdemeanors' that the House charged against these judges included being habitually drunk, showing favoritism on the bench, using judicial power unlawfully, using the office for financial gain, unlawfully punishing people for contempt of court, submitting false expense accounts, getting special deals from parties appearing before the court, bullying people in open court, filing false income tax returns, making false statements while under oath, and disclosing confidential information."[11]

See also: Corruption and Societal Consequences of Trumpism

Line of Succession[edit]

The United States presidential line of succession is the set order of United States federal government officials who may become or act as President of the United States if the current president becomes incapacitated, dies, resigns, or is removed from office (by impeachment and subsequent conviction).[12]

The first three people in the line of succession are:

1. Vice President Mike Pence (R)

  • Pence does not believe in a woman's right to choose[13] and has signed antiabortion laws[14] that have been shut down by federal courts.[15] As governor of Indiana, Pence signed legislation requiring the burial or cremation of fetal tissue.[16] Hospitals where miscarriages had taken place would be required to pick up the cost,[17] essentially adding a tax on having an abortion or miscarriage.
  • Pence, a self-professed "born-again, evangelical Catholic,"[18] signed legislation allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.[19] After being pressured by big corporations in his state,[20] Pence quickly changed his principled opinion on the issue.[21][22]
  • Pence voted to shut down so many health[23] and drug counseling services[24][25] in Indiana that in one county, his policies triggered outbreaks of HIV and hepatitis.[26]
  • Pence has been a repeated defender of Trump's lies,[27] but is more careful to hide his own untruths. One example: in 2001, Pence penned an editorial about the health hazards of smoking that stated, "Smoking Doesn't Kill."[28]

2. Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R)

3. President pro tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch (R)

Past Impeachments[edit]

Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents to have been successfully impeached by the House of Representatives, though both were later acquitted by the Senate.[29][30][31]

Articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon were passed by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 and reported to the full House, but Nixon resigned the presidency before the impeachment resolutions could be considered.[32]

How to Resist[edit]

  • Impeach Trump Now: resources on calling on cities/states to pass resolutions requesting that the House begin impeachment proceedings

Past Updates[edit]

  • 2/9/2017: Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the second-ranking Democrat in the House Judiciary Committee, has filed a preliminary impeachment inquiry for the Judiciary Committee to vote on directing the Department of Justice to provide information about President Trump's conflicts of interests (described in Corruption and Russia/Hacking). If the Judiciary Committee does not act on the inquiry within 14 days, Congressman Nadler can request that the resolution be discharged, meaning that the entire House of Representatives can vote on it.[33]