“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, 1950
It takes quite a lot to impeach an American president.
Richard Nixon came perilously close to being impeached and removed from office when the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 got fed up with his Watergate antics, but he resigned before that happened (making him the only president in American history to resign). Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his sexual antics with a White House intern, but was ultimately acquitted.
No president in U.S. history has been impeached, convicted, and removed from office (though political adversaries routinely call for it). Some calls have more foundation than others do.
In Donald Trump’s case, some people believe the question isn’t whether impeachment will happen – but when.
How to Impeach a U.S. President
The Constitutional Foundation
As per Article Two of the U.S. 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.”
This constitutional decree sounds rather broad in scope, but a closer look at “high crimes and misdemeanors” reveals that lying under oath counts as one of the crimes under Article Two, as well as certain behavior – Russian collusion, perhaps – that may be revealed during the course of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump’s presidential campaign.
Articles of Impeachment and House Vote
If Mueller unearths solid evidence of Russian collusion, or other naughty behavior tied to Trump, it could put into motion impeachment proceedings. In that case, a House committee (or even just one individual lawmaker) would draft Articles of Impeachment – a document setting out the specifics of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors – and submit to the House for a vote.
Trial in the Senate
Assuming the House votes to impeach, the proceedings then move to the Senate, where what takes place is the functional equivalent of a trial. Ultimately, the Senate will choose to convict or acquit.
As CNN reports, some lawmakers are now raising the specter of impeachment. Sen. Lindsey Graham predicts that if the GOP fails on tax reform, the Dems will take over, and the Republicans will lose political power.
And if that happens, Trump will face “one constant investigation after another,” in opposition lawmakers’ hopes of impeaching No. 45.