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Impeachment: The Unthinkable Process

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Impeach Nixon
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It's the last thing you would ever think could happen to an American President. Since 1841, over one-third of all American Presidents have either died in office, became disabled, or resigned. However, no American President has ever been forced from office due to impeachment.

In fact, only four times in our history, has Congress held serious discussions of impeachment:

  • Andrew Johnson was actually impeached when Congress became unhappy with the way he was dealing with some post-Civil War matters, but Johnson was acquitted in the Senate by one vote and remained in office.
  • Congress introduced a resolution to impeach John Tyler over state's rights issues, but the resolution failed.
  • Congress was debating his impeachment over the Watergate break-in when President Richard Nixon resigned.
  • William J. Clinton was impeached by the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in relationship to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was eventually acquitted by the Senate.

The Impeachment Process

In the House of Representatives

  • The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee will propose a Resolution calling for the Judiciary Committee to begin a formal inquiry into the issue of impeachment.
  • Based on their inquiry, the Judiciary Committee will send another Resolution to the full House stating that impeachment is warranted and why (the Articles of Impeachment), or that impeachment is not called for.
  • The Full House (probably operating under special floor rules set by the House Rules Committee) will debate and vote on each Article of Impeachment.
  • Should any one of the Articles of Impeachment be approved by a simple majority vote, the President will be "impeached." However, being impeached is sort of like being indicted of a crime. There still has to be a trial, which is where the US Senate comes in.

In the Senate

  • The Articles of Impeachment are received from the House.
  • The Senate formulates rules and procedures for holding a trial.
  • A trial will be held. The President will be represented by his lawyers. A select group of House members will serve as "prosecutors." The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (currently John G. Roberts) will preside with all 100 Senators acting as the jury.
  • The Senate will meet in private session to debate a verdict.
  • The Senate, in open session, will vote on a verdict. A 2/3 vote of the Senate will result in a conviction.
  • The Senate will vote to remove the President from office.
  • The Senate may also vote (by a simple majority) to prohibit the President from holding any public office in the future.

Impeachable Offenses

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution 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." In his report, Independent Counsel, Starr accuses President Clinton of committing eleven acts for which he could be removed from office by impeachment. Are any of those acts "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors?" Well, that's up to the members of the House of Representatives. According to constitutional lawyers, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" are (1) real criminality -- breaking a law; (2) abuses of power; (3) "violation of public trust" as defined by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. In 1970, then Representative 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." An excellent definition, Mr. Former President. In the past, Congress has issued Articles of Impeachment for acts in three general categories:

  • Behavior grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office.
  • Employing the power of the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.

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