The U.S. House of Representatives’ investigation into alleged abuses of power by President Donald Trump is dominating headlines around the world right now. But oftentimes lost in the punditry is a fact-based discussion of what impeachment is and how its played a role in previous administrations. Using Topic Pages and Real-time Reference articles, Credo users can gather background information and add context to the news.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is the political process for formally accusing a public official of a crime or wrongdoing, and the mechanism by which that person may be removed from their office. The distinction between impeachment and other law enforcement processes was made by the founders as a way of safeguarding federal offices against behavior that did not break specific laws, but which were otherwise detrimental to the duties of the official. (For example, the first person impeached and removed in the U.S. was District Court Judge John Pickering for the charges of “intoxication” and “mental instability.”)
The House of Representatives must first draft articles of impeachment, and then a trial will occur in the Senate with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. At the end of the trial, members of the Senate will vote to acquit or remove. In order for a removal to occur, a ⅔ majority must vote to remove.
Learn more about impeachment in the U.S. and U.K. here:
Read Real-time Reference Articles about the origins and history of impeachment:
- Founders: Removal from office is not the only purpose of impeachment
- Trump, Ukraine and a whistleblower: Ever since 1796, Congress has struggled to keep presidents in check
Who has been impeached in the past?
The two previous U.S. presidents to be impeached were:
Andrew Johnson: Impeached twice for firing his secretary of war (part of a larger disagreement between Johnson and Republicans over Johnson’s approach to Reconstruction), Johnson escaped removal by a single vote.
Bill Clinton: Perjury and obstruction of justice were the official charges against Clinton, which garnered 45 and 50 votes to convict respectively in the Senate, well below the 67 needed for removal.
*Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee voted to bring articles of impeachment against him, but before the House could take further action.
What comes next?
While it’s impossible to know exactly what will come next, we can use Real-time Reference Sources to better understand what’s happening.
- If impeachment comes to the Senate – 5 questions answered
- How to know which impeachment polls to believe – and which to skip