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Impeachment: A Primer on How a President Can Be Removed From Office

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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. — U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4

Impeachment of a President is a drastic measure that the Constitution discusses, but hardly describes. As it says, removal from office is after an official is both impeached and convicted. But that’s all it says. So here’s some insight into what that means and how it works.

Impeachment

The first part of the removal process is impeachment, but even that has several steps. A lot of people are under the false assumption that impeachment itself is the method of removing a President from office, but that’s a common misconception. Only two Presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and neither was removed from office. President Richard Nixon was almost impeached, but he resigned before that happened.

Impeachment is really just the process where a government official is charged with an offense, kind of like how in a criminal case, a person can be indicted on charges. The House of Representatives votes on whether to impeach, just like a grand jury decides whether to indict.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Before the House votes on whether to impeach, there needs to be an investigation, a fact-finding mission conducted by Congress or the Justice Department. Without that, there’s no evidence to present as the basis for impeachment charges.

Once there’s enough evidence to bring a case against the President, the House Judiciary Committee evaluates it and then decides whether to draft articles of impeachment, which are the formal charges. From there, the entire House votes on the articles of impeachment, and if a majority of representatives are in favor, the President is officially impeached.

Conviction

Once a President (or whomever the official is) is impeached, the matter goes to the U.S. Senate, which acts like the jury would at a criminal trial. When the President is the official in question, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the proceedings. The House appoints representatives to prosecute the case, and the President can put forth a defense.

After both sides present their cases, the Senate votes on each article of impeachment. Two thirds of the Senate must vote against the President in order to convict. If that happens, they can remove the President from office.

Again, no President has ever been removed from office through this process. President Johnson came close, being only vote short of conviction, but President Clinton wasn’t even close to being removed. Should it ever happen to any President, however, this is how it would happen.

[Image via Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock]

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