Impeachment - Presidents, Process and How It Works

Impeachment - Presidents, Process and How It Works

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Impeachment is a process in the House of Representatives that makes up the first major step required to remove a government official from office. Impeachment has been used infrequently in the United States—at either the federal or state level—and even less so in Britain, where the legal concept was first created and used. Three sitting U.S. presidents, Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been impeached by the House of Representatives; President Trump is the only one to have been impeached twice.

Article 2 of the Constitution

After much debate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the attendees—among them George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin—approved the concept behind the impeachment of government officials.

Adapted from British law, the impeachment process was included in Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, the document that serves as the foundation of the American system of government.

Some framers of the Constitution were opposed to the impeachment clause, because having the legislative branch sit in judgement over the executive might compromise the separation of powers they sought to establish between the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

However, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who would later serve in the House of Representatives and as vice president under James Madison, noted, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”

What Crimes Are Impeachable?

Article 2, 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.” This describes an abuse of power by a high-level public official.

How the Impeachment Process Works

Generally, the first step in the impeachment process in the House of Representatives is to hold a formal inquiry into whether or not there are grounds for impeachment. This can be carried out by a House committee or an independent counsel. The House of Representatives can also just hold a floor vote on articles of impeachment without any committee or panel vetting them.

Impeachment does not refer to the removal of an elected official from office, but rather it represents the first of a two-step process in potentially removing that official.

Based on the findings of a House committee or independent panel, the House Judiciary Committee can then draft and approve articles of impeachment. These articles may then go to the House floor for a vote. If the articles are passed by a simple majority, the matter moves to the Senate.

Senate Trial Follows House Impeachment Vote

The Senate then acts as courtroom, jury and judge, except in presidential impeachment trials, during which the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court acts as judge.

A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required to convict. If a president is acquitted by the Senate, the impeachment trial is over. But if he or she is found guilty, the Senate trial moves to the sentencing or “punishment” phase.

Punishment If Convicted: Removal and Possible Ban From Government Service

The Constitution allows for two types of punishments for a president found guilty of an impeachable offense: “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.”

The first punishment, removal from office, is automatically enforced following a two-thirds guilty vote. But the second punishment, disqualification from holding any future government position, requires a separate Senate vote. In this case, only a simple majority is required to ban the impeached president from any future government office for life. That second vote has never been held since no president has been found guilty in the Senate trial.

Impeachment is considered a power to be used only in extreme cases, and as such, it has been used relatively infrequently. Although Congress has impeached and removed eight federal officials—all federal judges—so far no sitting president has ever been found guilty during a Senate impeachment trial.

READ MORE: What Happens After Impeachment?

Who Becomes President If the President Is Impeached?

If the U.S. president is impeached, the first in line to succeed him or her is the vice president, followed by the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president of the Senate, and then the secretary of state.

Once the vice president becomes president, the 25 Amendment to the Constitution permits the vice president to name their own successor: “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

The current line of succession after President Donald Trump is Vice President Mike Pence, followed by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Charles Grassley and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Presidents Who Faced Impeachment

Three U.S. presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives while others have faced formal impeachment inquiries. Each case saw different results.

John Tyler was was the first president to face impeachment charges. Nicknamed “His Accidency” for assuming the presidency after William Henry Harrison died after just 30 days in office, Tyler was wildly unpopular with his own Whig party. On January 10, 1843, Representative John M. Botts of Virginia proposed a resolution that would call for the formation of a committee to investigate charges of misconduct against Tyler for the purposes of possible impeachment.

Botts took issue with Tyler’s handling of the U.S. Treasury and what he described as the president’s “arbitrary, despotic, and corrupt abuse of veto power.” After a short debate, however, the House of Representatives voted down Botts’ resolution.

Andrew Johnson Impeachment

Andrew Johnson wasn’t so lucky. Johnson, who rose from vice president to president following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, was impeached in March, 1868, over his decision to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

Congress argued that Stanton’s termination was an impeachable offense that violated the Tenure of Office Act, which had been voted into law the year before and prohibited the president from removing officials confirmed by the Senate without the legislative body’s approval.

On May 26, 1868, the impeachment trial in the Senate ended with Johnson’s opponents failing to get sufficient votes to remove him from office, and he finished the rest of his term.

READ MORE: President Johnson Was Impeached Over Firing a Cabinet Member

Richard Nixon Resignation

After Johnson, several U.S. presidents faced threats of impeachment, including Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

All of these former commanders-in-chief had articles of impeachment filed against them in the House of Representatives. None of them were actually impeached, meaning those articles of impeachment failed to garner the necessary votes to move them to the Senate for a hearing.

President Richard M. Nixon faced impeachment over his involvement in the Watergate scandal and its fallout. In fact, the House of Representatives approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, making him the second U.S. president (after Johnson) to face a potential hearing before the Senate.

However, Nixon resigned in 1974 before Congress could begin the proceedings.

READ MORE: Watergate Scandal: Timeline, Summary & Deep Throat

Bill Clinton Impeachment

President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 over allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a lawsuit filed against him relating to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Although the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved two articles of impeachment against President Clinton, he was ultimately acquitted by the Senate the next year and finished his second four-year term in office in 2000.

READ MORE: Why Clinton Survived Impeachment While Nixon Resigned After Watergate

Donald Trump 2019 Impeachment

On September 24, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump regarding his alleged efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate possible wrongdoings by Trump's political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The decision to authorize the impeachment inquiry came after a whistleblower complaint detailed a July phone conversation between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump allegedly tied Ukrainian military aid to personal political favors. The White House later released a reconstructed transcript of the phone call, which many Democrats argued demonstrated that Trump had violated the Constitution.

On December 18, 2019, Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached as the House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines to impeach him over abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Only two Democrats opposed the article on abuse of power and a third Democrat opposed the second article on obstruction of justice. No Republican voted in favor of either article of impeachment. On February 5, 2020, the Senate voted largely along party lines to acquit Trump on both charges.

Donald Trump 2021 Impeachment

On January 11, 2021, House Democrats introduced another article of impeachment against President Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, citing phone calls, speeches and tweets that allegedly helped incite a violent crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

On January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, making him the only president in history to be impeached twice. Unlike Trump’s first impeachment, 10 House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for impeachment. One hundred and ninety-seven Republicans voted against the second impeachment. On February 13, 2021, the Senate acquitted then-former President Trump in his second impeachment trial. Seven Republicans joined 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump, falling short of the 67 guilty votes needed for conviction.

READ MORE: How Many U.S. Presidents Have Faced Impeachment?

Impeachment at the State Level

In addition to federal impeachment, state legislatures are also granted the power to impeach elected officials in 49 of the 50 states, with Oregon being the lone exception.

At the state level, the process of impeachment is essentially the same as at the national level: typically, the lower state legislative chamber (the state assembly) is charged with levying and investigating formal accusations before ultimately voting on articles of impeachment should there be evidence of possible misconduct.

If the lower body approves any article(s) of impeachment, the upper chamber (the state senate) conducts a hearing or trial on the charges, during which both the legislators and the accused may call witnesses and present evidence.

Once the evidence and testimony has been presented, the upper chamber of the state legislature—much like the U.S. Senate at the federal level—must vote on whether the charged official is guilty or innocent.

Usually, a supermajority (two-thirds majority or greater) is required for conviction and removal from office.

And just like at the federal level, impeachment at the state level is extremely rare. For example, the state of Illinois has impeached only two officials in its entire history—a judge in 1832-33 and a governor (Rod Blagojevich) in 2008-09.

Impeachment in Britain

Ironically, given its origins in British law, the process of impeachment has been used even less frequently in the United Kingdom.

Originally, impeachment was developed as a means by which the British Parliament could prosecute and try holders of public office for high treason or other crimes. However, it was created prior to the evolution of political parties in Britain and the establishment of collective and individual ministerial responsibility within the government.

When the process was used in Britain, primarily in the 16th and 17th centuries, Parliament and the courts had very limited oversight of government power. Although efforts to remove the power to impeach from Parliament via legislation have failed to pass, the process is considered obsolete in the U.K. and hasn’t been used since 1806.


Impeachment. U.S. House of Representatives.
Impeachment. U.S. Senate.
The Senate Acquits President Clinton. Washington Post.
Separation of Powers—Impeachment. National Conference of State Legislatures.
Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office. Chicago Tribune.
Impeachment. Parliament (U.K.).

For almost every job in the world, it’s understood that a person can be fired — whether for crime, incompetence or poor performance. But what if your job happens to be one of the most powerful positions in the country?

Like president of the United States? Or vice president? Or justice of the Supreme Court?

That’s where impeachment comes in.

So, how does the process work?

Despite how most people use the term, impeachment does not mean removing a person from office.

Instead, impeachment refers to the formal accusation that launches a trial. When the US Constitution was written in 1787, impeachment was enshrined in Article 1 as a power of Congress that applied to any civil officers — up to and including the president.

Although demands for impeachment can come from any member of the public, only the House of Representatives has the power to initiate the process. The House begins by referring the matter to a committee, usually the Committee on Rules and the Committee on the Judiciary.

These committees review the accusations, examine the evidence, and issue a recommendation. If they find sufficient grounds to proceed, the House holds a separate vote on each of the specific charges, otherwise known as Articles of Impeachment. If one or more of these articles passes by a simple majority, the official is impeached and a trial will be held.

The trial that follows impeachment is held in the Senate. Selected members of the House — known as managers — act as the prosecution, while the impeached official and their lawyers present their defense. The Senate acts as both judge and jury, conducting the trial and deliberating after hearing the arguments. Ordinarily, the vice president presides, but if the president is being impeached, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides.

A conviction by the Senate requires a two-thirds majority — what’s called a supermajority — and it results in automatic removal from power. The Senate can also vote to disqualify that person from holding office in the future.

So, what exactly can get someone impeached? That’s a bit more complicated. Realizing that impeachment in the US essentially pits an elected legislature against other democratically-elected members of government, the writers of the Constitution wanted to prevent the process from being used as a political weapon.

For that reason, the Constitution specified that an official can be impeached for these reasons: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Of course, this still leaves a lot of room for interpretation — not to mention politics — and many impeachment trials have certainly split along partisan lines. But the process is generally understood to be reserved for serious abuses of power, and it’s seldom used.

Throughout its 230-year history, the House has launched impeachment investigations about 60 times. However, only 19 have led to impeachment proceedings. The 8 cases that ended in a conviction and removal from office all involved federal judges.

Impeachment of a sitting president is extremely rare. Contrary to popular belief, Richard Nixon was never impeached for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Knowing he would almost certainly be impeached and convicted, he resigned before that could happen.

In 1868, president Andrew Johnson was impeached for attempting to replace Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without consulting the Senate. More than a century later, in 1998 Bill Clinton was impeached for making false statements under oath during a sexual harassment trial. However, both presidents were ultimately acquitted when the Senate’s votes fell short of the required supermajority and they remained in office.

When drawing up the Constitution, the founders specifically designed the US government to prevent potential abuses. The powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches are all limited through a combination of checks and balances, term limits, and elections.

Impeachment is the US democracy’s emergency brake — a tool to be used when these safeguards all fail.

All animations by Mark Phillips / TED-Ed

Watch TED-Ed’s complete “How does impeachment work?” video now:

The House's Role

The House brings impeachment charges against federal officials as part of its oversight and investigatory responsibilities. Individual Members of the House can introduce impeachment resolutions like ordinary bills, or the House could initiate proceedings by passing a resolution authorizing an inquiry. The Committee on the Judiciary ordinarily has jurisdiction over impeachments, but special committees investigated charges before the Judiciary Committee was created in 1813. The committee then chooses whether to pursue articles of impeachment against the accused official and report them to the full House. If the articles are adopted (by simple majority vote), the House appoints Members by resolution to manage the ensuing Senate trial on its behalf. These managers act as prosecutors in the Senate and are usually members of the Judiciary Committee. The number of managers has varied across impeachment trials but has traditionally been an odd number. The partisan composition of managers has also varied depending on the nature of the impeachment, but the managers, by definition, always support the House’s impeachment action.

Impeachment explained: A constitutional primer and history

Americans are sharply divided about the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump. But regardless of how you feel about the controversy, many Americans remain unsure about what impeachment means, how it serves as a tool to enforce our government’s separation of powers, and how the Framers of our Constitution intended that tool to be used.

How impeachment works

The impeachment process is analogous in several ways to being charged with a criminal offense. But there are also important differences.

There is no clear guidance in the Constitution about whether a sitting president can be charged with a crime under normal federal criminal laws. That question has been debated by legal scholars and attorneys, but the Supreme Court has not yet had the opportunity to settle the issue. However, the consensus view among multiple legal scholars is that the only avenue available to charge a sitting president with wrongdoing is through impeachment.

Impeachment is a formal charge of wrongdoing, not a conviction of that wrongdoing. For example, if you’re charged with shoplifting, you’re not automatically guilty of shoplifting. You are entitled to a trial. Impeachment proceedings work the same way: An impeachment does not mean a president is immediately removed from office it is simply the formal process for charging a president for possible official wrongdoing. If convicted, they are then removed from office (and, in theory, can then face separate criminal charges if warranted).

The Constitution charges the House of Representatives with the “sole power” to investigate, and if necessary, impeach a president by charging them with committing “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Once the House of Representatives votes and passes Articles of Impeachment against the president, the president is then entitled to a trial. Once impeached, the accused president is tried by the full Senate, which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If convicted by a 2/3 majority, the president is then removed from office.

After taking the oath of office, the vice president then becomes president.

An important thing to remember about the process of impeachment: Impeachable offenses are not limited to actual illegal activity because of the broad language regarding impeachment in the Constitution, what constitutes an “impeachable offense” is an inherently political question. As Gerald Ford once put it: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

The history of impeachment

Only two American presidents have been impeached. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for allegedly illegally removing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for allegedly lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice regarding an extramarital affair. Neither was convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon likely would have been impeached in 1974 for his connection to the Watergate scandal, but he resigned from office.

The Founders fervently debated the question of executive power at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Articles of Confederation (the first constitution of the United States) did not include an executive because the former colonists had suffered abuse at the hands of royal governors. But a national executive was a different matter.

Some of the Framers thought the executive should be an agent of Congress. Roger Sherman asserted that the executive (who would not be called “president” until almost the Convention’s conclusion) should be “nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the legislature into effect.” On the other side of the debate, Charles Pinckney argued in favor of an executive with “vigorous” powers, with James Wilson going so far as to say that the position would “require the vigor of monarchy.”

While the Founders ultimately agreed to invest the president with broad executive powers, they again clashed over what should constitute an impeachable offense, and how impeachment (and then removal) should be carried out. What would happen if a president purposefully violated the Constitution or otherwise was deficient in discharging their duties? How could the other branches of the federal government rein them in?

Early in the Convention, the Framers adopted the standard that presidents could be impeached and removed only for “conviction of malpractice or neglect of duty.” However, later that summer several delegates tried getting rid of impeachment altogether. Rufus King proposed that elections would be a sufficient check on the executive branch. King argued that members of the Electoral College could simply refuse to reelect troublesome presidents. Other delegates, like John Dickenson, proposed that the president be removable whenever a majority of state legislatures or governors petitioned Congress. This system would have put the states in charge.

But James Madison argued that neither elections nor the states would be a sufficient check, because presidents “might pervert [their] administration into a scheme of peculation (embezzlement) or oppression.” Presidents might even “betray [their] trust to foreign powers.”

The delegates voted to retain impeachment but still could not agree on what an impeachable offense should be. They replaced the “malpractice” language with “treason and bribery,” but George Mason warned that it “would not reach many great and dangerous offences.” He offered the addition of the more open-ended term “maladministration,” but Madison objected, fearful it would give Congress too free a hand in removing a president for almost any reason.

The Founders ultimately came up with compromise language (which is what appears in the ratified Constitution). The Constitution states that presidents may be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” They chose the words for very specific reasons. “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” is ambiguous enough for Congress to define its precise contours on a case-by-case basis, while also being rooted in British and early American history via past impeachments of public officials.

Not only would impeachment serve to protect the separation of powers from abusive presidents, but the process itself would incorporate that separation.

The House of Representatives, as the direct representatives of the people, were selected as the body charged with deciding whether a president’s behavior warrants an official impeachment charge.

The Senate was picked to conduct impeachment trials. In Federalist 65, written to explain to the citizens of New York why they should support ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Senate was the best forum for impeachment trials because senators are representatives of each individual state in their sovereign capacity, rather than being directly dependent on the people for reelection. (For the first 125 years of the Republic, senators were appointed by state legislatures. The 17th Amendment changed this system by providing that senators would be elected by the people.) According to Hamilton, senators would be more likely to act impartially in deciding a president’s guilt.

Finally, the Supreme Court itself would not have a direct role in impeachments or impeachment trials, as its members were dependent on the Executive Branch for their nominations. But the third branch was still provided an important role, as the Chief Justice was charged with presiding over the president’s trial before the Senate.

While the merits of any individual impeachment will be decided by Congress in the role assigned to it by the Framers, we should be grateful that our system allows for the people to check the power of the chief executive. This is particularly true as the scope of the executive branch has increased with the growth of regulatory agencies.

How impeachment works

The House of Representatives will begin debate this morning over whether to impeach President Trump for a second time after a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol last week.

The action can be hard to follow, so if you’re having trouble keeping track of what’s happened so far, we break down the process, and where things stand.

What is the origin of impeachment?

The framers of the Constitution included a provision for impeaching a president or other federal officials, including judges. They were inspired by a process from British constitutional history that dated to the 14th century, as a way for Parliament to hold the king’s ministers accountable for their actions, according to the House of Representatives.

The writers of the Constitution didn’t want to tightly define high crimes and misdemeanors but gave broad examples of what it should include. Legal experts describe it as an offense against the public trust at large, not necessarily a crime defined by law.

James Madison wrote in 1787 that there had to be a way to defend against “incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief executive” because the president might “pervert his administration” or “betray his trust to foreign powers.” Alexander Hamilton described the standard in 1788 as “abuse or violation of some public trust.”

Legal experts also stress that this punishment was not intended to be used when Congress disagrees with the president’s policy decisions. (This is why Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have refused to bring articles of impeachment against Trump for policies they don’t like, such as family detention at the southern border.

The clause in the Constitution — Article II, section 4, says:

“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.”

What qualifies as an impeachable offense? That is up to the lawmakers considering impeachment at any given time.

In the current proceedings, at issue is whether Trump abused his power by withholding aid from Ukraine until the country’s president agreed to investigate Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and specifically the Ukrainian company Biden’s son had worked for. Also at issue: whether he obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the investigation, including by blocking administration officials from testifying and federal agencies from providing documents.

How does Congress remove someone who holds office?

The House of Representatives votes to impeach — that is, to charge an official with wrongdoing.

The Senate holds a trial to consider the articles of impeachment.

The Senate votes on whether to remove the official from power. (In some cases, they can also disqualify someone from holding a future office.)

Any fines or imprisonment for crimes committed while in office are left to civil courts.

That’s a birds-eye view, but there are several steps to get through each phase of the process.

Impeachment and removal: A step-by-step guide

First, as part of its oversight and investigative responsibilities, the House considers whether to bring impeachment charges against federal officials.

Individual members of the House can introduce impeachment resolutions or the House can start the process by passing a resolution that authorizes an inquiry.

With two-thirds of House Democrats supporting an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi agreed to launch a formal proceeding.

The current impeachment process was kicked off after Speaker Nancy Pelosi authorized an inquiry.

The inquiry started with closed-door testimony, later made public, by three witnesses:

  • William B. Taylor Jr., former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
  • George P. Kent, State Department official for European and Eurasian affairs
  • Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine

That was followed by two days of public hearings with the three witnesses.

The committee decides whether to write up articles of impeachment

The House Judiciary Committee heard from four law professors in a public hearing:

  • Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Law School
  • Noah Feldman, Harvard University
  • Pamela Karlan, Stanford University
  • Michael Gerhardt, University of North Carolina

It also considered evidence against Trump from the House Intelligence Committee and approved two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

2. Which presidents have been impeached?

The first, President Andrew Johnson, was impeached in 1868 amid a bitter feud with Congress in the aftermath of the Civil War. A Democrat who had been elected on a unity ticket with Republican Abraham Lincoln, he obstructed the agenda of Congressional Republicans as they sought to extend citizenship and the vote to Black Southerners. Congress attempted to curb Johnson’s power with the Tenure of Office Act. But when Johnson fired his secretary of war in defiance of the law, the House of Representatives brought 11 articles against him and impeached. The Senate, however, fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed to convict, and Johnson remained in office.

President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 on two articles for perjury and obstruction of justice connected to a civil sexual harassment case. In a deposition for the lawsuit, Clinton denied any sexual involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky—a denial contradicted by an independent counsel investigation. The House impeached Clinton, but he was acquitted in the Senate in a largely party-line vote.

Trump was impeached in the House in December 2019 after lawmakers brought articles for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in relation to his alleged solicitation of foreign interference in the upcoming presidential election. But though the House impeached him, he was handily acquitted at the end of his Senate trial. Since Trump was found not guilty by the Senate, any second impeachment attempt must deal with a new set of accusations.

One other president, Richard Nixon, was the subject of formal impeachment proceedings in 1973 and 1974 for obstruction of justice and abuse of power related to a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate in Washington, D.C. But after an incriminating tape was uncovered, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.

What are the rules for a Senate trial?

There are no set rules. Rather, the Senate passes a resolution first laying out trial procedures.

“When the Senate decided what the rules were going to be for our trial, they really made them up as they went along,” Gregory B. Craig, who helped defend Mr. Clinton in his impeachment proceeding and later served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama, told The Times in 2017.

For example, Mr. Craig said, the initial rules in that case gave Republican managers four days to make a case for conviction, followed by four days for the president’s legal team to defend him. These were essentially opening statements. The Senate then decided whether to hear witnesses, and if so, whether it would be live or on videotape. Eventually, the Senate permitted each side to depose several witnesses by videotape.

The political climate has to be right for Congress to act.

Past impeachment inquiries have been fueled by scandals, especially episodes that sink support for the president in Congress and with the broader public.

How it's playing out now

A whistleblower’s complaint that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival, was the final straw for House Democrats already pondering impeachment.

In history

Clinton’s impeachment process began when he was accused of lying under oath about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

After the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972, Nixon outraged the country when he tried to cover up his involvement with the crime.

The push to impeach Johnson came after he fired his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Congress was outraged because it was a direct violation of the newly passed Office of Tenure Act, which prohibited removal of certain Cabinet officials without the Senate’s consent.

The impeachment process in organizations

If you are in an organization and need to know more about Robert's rules click here. There is a new chapter in the book especially for HOA's.


Robert McConnell Productions

None of us could escape the news and the various commentaries about the impeachment of the President of the United States. Everyone has his or her opinion about whether this should have be done or whether it should continue to go further. This article is not going to address this issue, but try to give some understanding of this process and the procedures to be used in organizations if it becomes necessary to remove an officer.

In common law, impeachment is a criminal proceeding by a legislative body against a public official. It originated in the 14th Century as a means of initiating criminal proceedings based on "clamor" or outcry. In 1376 the Good Parliament in trying William, 4th Baron Latimer, set the procedures for the method of trial.

In Britain impeachment became a means for parliament to get rid of unpopular ministers who were favorites of the king and protected by him. Although this was a popular process in England in the 17th Century, it has not been used since 1806.

It was primarily used as way to balance the king&rsquos power. When it was finally decided that the king could not pardon a minister to stop impeachment or stop criminal proceeding against a royal minister, then impeachment was no longer used. It was believed to be too drastic as a political measure.

When writing the Constitution of the United States and deciding how much power would be entrusted to the office of president, the framers of the constitution included an impeachment clause to protect against the president having absolute power like the king and ignoring the will of the people.

In an article in the Newport Herald (Rhode Island) March 20, 1788 , a comparison was made between the British Constitution and the proposed Constitution of the United States of America. The article compared the difference between the powers given to the king and those to the president.



The Constitution of England The Constitution of the
not only views the King as United States supposes
absolute in perpetuity, but that a President may do
in perfection. The King wrong, and have provided
can do no wrong, is an the he shall be removed
established maxim. from office on impeach-
ment and conviction of
high crimes and mis-

Because of the lessons learned from the Revolutionary War the framers of the Constitution wanted some clause to removed the president from office during his term. Even though they had set the term limit for four years, they realized that during his term, a president could commit acts of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." (Constitution of the US, Article II, Section 4.) The punishment could not wait until his term was ended, but because of the serious nature, they needed to provide a democratic way to remove from office now.


We&rsquove have just witness the impeachment of the President of the United States by the House of Representatives in December of 1998. As we have learned, impeachment does not remove from office but brings charges against the President. These charges are the basis for a trial in the Senate.

The Associated Press gave this outline for the path of impeachment:

"1. Evidence incriminating an officer holder is delivered to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

2. House Rules Committee asks the House to approve a resolution that transmits a report to the Judiciary Committee and establishes procedures for conducting an initial investigation.

3. The Judiciary Committee holds a hearing. The committee sent four articles of impeachment (similar to an indictment) to the full House.

4. A majority of the House must vote to approve the articles of impeachment. The House approved two articles, Saturday, December 19th, 1998.

5. The senate, presided over by the Chief justice, sits as a court to hear charges. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict.

6. Upon conviction, the president is removed form office and the vice president is sworn in."

For a complete discussion of the impeachment process go to <>. It is written by Alan Hirsch.

For the Senate Rules on following the impeachment process, go to <>.


Now, as persons interested in ROBERT&rsquoS RULES OF ORDER and your organization, you might ask, "what does this have to do with me or my organization?"

First, we are getting a lesson in how we interpret our bylaws. The debate in the House has been what is the meaning of "high crimes and misdemeanors".

Second, we are seeing how disruptive and divisive a trial can be when no other procedure for removal is given than the impeachment process.

Third, we are learning that an organization has the right to protect its good name, and discipline its officers and members.

In voluntary societies, ROBERT&rsquoS RULES OF ORDER NEWLY REVISED, states on page 644, that members can be disciplined for conduct outside a meeting or work in the organization that tends "to injure the good name of the organization, disturb its well-being, or hamper it in its work".

There are two ways to discipline a member or officer,

2. removal from office or membership.


Since impeachment is the subject of conversation these days, and the immediate question in Congress, we&rsquoll talk about removal from office first.

In most organizations, the bylaws don&rsquot use the term "impeachment" because it is mainly a legislative term. The equivalent term would be a "trial" or a clause for "removal from office".

Since a trial is a long involved process, (which we will discuss in the next issue of this newsletter) the best way to remove from office is to provide in the bylaws a provision for this.

It can be simply stated: "Officers can be removed from office [with or without cause] by a two thirds vote." This is simply rescinding the election and replacing him with someone else. The phrase "with or without cause" is now being recommended to be included in such a bylaw provision. If this is included in bylaws, someone should check with the state statutes for your type of organization to see what the statutes say about removing from office. (if your organization is incorporated, then check with the state statutes in which state the organization is incorporated-- not necessary where the national office is located)

Another provision in the bylaws that enables members to remove an officer through the simple procedure of rescinding an election, is the statement, "that an officer shall serve for ____years or until their successors are elected." In this case, the voting requirements concerning "rescind" are in effect. If previous notice is given, it takes a majority to adopt. If there is no previous notice, it takes a two thirds vote or a vote of the majority of the entire membership.

This provision in the bylaws then allows any member during new business to make a motion to remove ____officer. It needs a second and is debatable. Other subsidiary motions can be applied to it. It is recommended to take the vote by ballot.

If the procedure is to rescind , the officer that is the object of the motion to remove from office, has the right to debate the motion (defend himself) and the right to vote. If the procedure is a trial, he has the right to defend himself but not to vote.

If the president is the subject of the motion to rescind, he must step down from the chair and let another officer preside.


What would be some of the reasons for removing someone from office?

1. not attending meetings and not doing the designated work

2. embezzlement of funds or other criminal activities
3. harming the good name of the organization

4. abusing the privilege of the office of president -- such as not allowing members to make motions, to debate, pushing through a personal agenda, ignoring the bylaws when it is for his purpose.


It is this author&rsquos opinion that when there is a serious problem in an organization the members need to go to the person first. If an officer is not fulfilling his obligations, then someone should talk to him about it. Does he need help? Does he not understand what his work is and how to do it? Try to work with the person. Then if he continues to neglect his duties it is time to rescind his election.

If the presiding officer is abusing his power in office -- thinking he has the mandate to "run" the organization for his term without input from others. Talk to him. Buy him a copy of ROBERT&rsquoS RULES. Show him how democracy works in everyone&rsquos favor, including his. If he is ignorant about presiding and what to do, then suggest he work with a registered parliamentarian or buy some videos on the subject. (See our bookstore on this web site for books and videos on the subject.) Try to be as helpful as you can.

Another thing that is helpful in electing people to office is to have the nominating committee nominate the person who has the time to do the job and is best qualified. Committee members should not be blinded by personal biases. The key is objectivity and fairness.

If a person has been elected to office and can&rsquot do the work, then he should either ask for help or resign from office.

And finally, remember this is the age of the lawsuit. If you remove someone from office be sure you follow all the rules. Consult your bylaws, parliamentary authority and state statutes on this subject. And just to be safe, work with a registered or certified parliamentarian and maybe consult an attorney, too.

For any questions you may have on this subject, e-mail us at [email protected]>.

The next news letter will discuss the removal of an officer or member by trial.


The history of impeachment was found in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The procedure of impeachment was found in the Associated Press article published in the Muncie Star Press.

The quote from the Newport Herald was found in the book, THE DEBATE ON THE CONSTITUTION, p 369.

How does impeachment work? Here is the step-by-step process

Here is a look at what impeachment is and how the process works.

How does impeachment work?

Impeachment was established by the framers of the Constitution as a way to accuse a president of a crime and to hold a trial to determine if he is guilty of that crime. The Constitution lays out two specific actions, treason and bribery, that could lead to impeachment and removal of a president from office.

The system also allows for a broader category to accuse a president of crime, although that category is more vague.

A president can also be charged with and found guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors." What exactly constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors is not defined in the Constitution, making impeachment on that basis more difficult.

By design, it is not easy to get rid of a president. Here are the steps in the process for impeaching a president:

  • First, an impeachment resolution must be introduced by a member of the House of Representatives.
  • The speaker of the House must then direct the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary (or a special committee) to hold a hearing on the resolution to decide whether to put the measure to a vote by the full chamber and when to hold such a vote.
  • A simple majority of the Judiciary Committee must approve the resolution.
  • If the Judiciary Committee approves the resolution, it moves to a full vote on the House floor.
  • If a simple majority of the those present and voting in the House approve an article of impeachment, then the president is impeached.
  • The procedure then moves to the Senate where a "trial" is held to determine if the president committed a crime. There is no set procedure for the trial. How it is conducted would be set by the Senate leadership.
  • Members of the House serve as "managers" in the Senate trial. Managers serve a similar role as prosecutors do in a criminal trial, they present evidence during the procedure.
  • The president would have counsel to represent him at the Senate process.
  • The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides over the trial.
  • Senators listen to the evidence presented, including closing arguments from each side and retire to deliberate.
  • Senators then reconvene and vote on whether the president is guilty or not guilty of the crimes he is accused of. It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict. If the president is found guilty, he is removed from office and the vice president is sworn-in as president.

The hearing in the Senate, along with a charge in the House that the president has committed a crime is not a legal one. No penalty, other than removal from office, is brought against a president in an impeachment hearing. To barr an official from holding future office requires a separate vote, which historically takes place after the formal impeachment vote. Reuters notes that precedent has required only a simple majority in the past.

Impeachment trials have been held twice in the country's history -- for President Andrew Johnson and for President Bill Clinton -- and both ended in acquittals: meaning the presidents were impeached by the House, but not convicted and removed from office by the Senate.

One vote kept Johnson from being convicted of firing the secretary of war in 1868, which went against a tenure act.

In 1999, the Senate was 22 votes shy of convicting Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones.


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