What is Impeachment exactly?

  • Impeachment is the first step in the process toward removal of a high level government official from office. It is a formal charge of misconduct, which must be followed by conviction via legislative vote to result in removal.
  • It is rarely used, but there have been three cases involving US presidents: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton (both were acquitted), and Richard Nixon (who resigned before impeachment hearings began). There have been several other impeachment cases, e.g. 15 federal judges (with 8 resulting removals).
  • It is part of constitutional law in several countries: Brazil, Russia, South Korea, and of course the United States, to name a few.

What is an Impeachable Offense?

  • According to the Constitution, impeachable offenses are “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors” (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4).

How does it work in the US?
There are several steps:

  • The Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives votes for impeachment, which if approved is brought to the full House
  • House-appointed managers (essentially prosecutors) prepare for a Senate hearing
  • The Senate oversees a hearing for removal. This is a trial with witnesses under oath.  In the case of a President the proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice of the U.S.; in the case of other high officials the Vice President would preside.
  • There must be a two-thirds Senate majority vote to execute removal of the accused.

If a U.S. President is removed, who takes over?

  • The Vice President would be sworn in and would immediately take over.
  • If the VP is also impeached, the Speaker of the House is then sworn in.

You can read a little more about the impeachment process, and High Crimes and Misdemeanors, at the Constitutional Rights Foundation website: http://www.crf-usa.org/impeachment/high-crimes-and-misdemeanors.html