Scot Scoop Explains: Impeachment Who, what, when, where, and why (it probably won't happen)

What is impeachment?

According to the United States Senate, if a federal official commits a crime or otherwise acts improperly, the House of Representatives may impeach—formally charge—that official. If the official subsequently is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, they are removed from office.

Basically, impeachment is how federal officials are charged with crimes and removed from office.

Who can get impeached?

According to the Constitution, "the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States" can be removed from office. The phrase "all civil officers" has typically taken to include Supreme Court justices, federal judges, and members of congress.

Why do some feel that Trump should be impeached?

Those in favor of impeaching Trump believe he is guilty of obstruction of justice, violating the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and violating campaign finance laws, to name a few.

Who is Robert Mueller and what does he have to do with this?

Currently, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election. So far, several senior Trump officials have been indicted as a result of this investigation.

Impeachment advocates

"We're going to impeach the motherf****r"

- Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, speaking at a rally with the progressive organization MoveOn.

Photo credit: CC-0 [Public Domain]

"[The hush money payments] would be impeachable offenses. Whether they're important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. Certainly, they're impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the President became President, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office."

- Congressman Jerry Nadler, speaking on CNN's State of the Union on December 9, 2018. Nadler is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to conduct investigations regarding impeachment.

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, CC-0

How does it work?

Congressional impeachments always begin with a first step: the House Judiciary Committee investigates whether to recommend impeachment to the full House. The committee subpoenas documents and testimony, can prepare legal analysis, and holds hearings. This is how the committee decides what the President has done, and if it is grounds for impeachment.

The House is the only body that can impeach an official, and the senate is the only body with the power to convict and remove them. Any member of the house can bring articles of impeachment to the house floor. Articles of impeachment serve as the charges. The House Judiciary Committee typically bears the responsibility of investigating the official. To approve an article of impeachment and allow it move on to the Senate, the articles of impeachment must receive a simple majority (218 out of 435 members). From there, the Senate holds a formal trial of impeachment. If the house does vote to impeach, members of the House are chosen to bring the case to the Senate, which holds a trial. Both sides can call witnesses and present evidence.

If the official being tried is the President of the United States, then the Chief Justice will preside over the trial. Otherwise, the Vice President presides, as they are the president of the Senate. The Senate needs a two-thirds majority (67 votes) to find the official guilty and remove the official from office.

Have any presidents been impeached before?

Andrew Johnson was impeached in February of 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act, and he was acquitted in May 1868. In December of 1998, Bill Clinton impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton was acquitted in February 1999. Richard Nixon was impeached in February of 1974 for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress, but he resigned in August 1974 before a trial could commence in the Senate.

What does the Constitution tell us?

Article I, Section 3: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachments shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States, but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment, and Punishment, according to Law.
Article II, Section 4: 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.

What has happened so far?

In 2017, Representatives Brad Sherman, Al Green, and Steve Cohen introduced resolutions to impeach Trump. Sherman reintroduced a resolution in the beginning of January.

Trump will probably not be impeached. Here's why:

The U.S. Constitution states that the president can be removed from office after being both impeached and convicted for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Treason: Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines treason as “the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family,”

Has Trump actually done this? It’s hard to say. Treason is hard to prove. For example, former Vice President Aaron Burr was caught stockpiling supplies and gathering a force to take over some of the lands that would eventually be obtained through the Louisiana Purchase. He was not convicted of treason.

Bribery: So far, no President has been charged with bribery.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: These terms are open to interpretation, but this aspect of a potential impeachment can be looked at through the view of partisan politics. Currently, the democrats have a majority in the House and the republicans have a majority in the Senate. Legality implications aside, impeachment is mainly partisan:


Impeachment by legal standards and impeachment by political standards serve different purposes.

At the moment, impeaching Trump is politically expedient for no one. While Democrats were able to secure a majority in the house in the 2018 midterm elections, they lost seats in the Senate and still have two (if not six) more years of a Trump presidency. Additionally, impeachment is based on the grounds of political consensus; all sides must come to the consensus that the individual in question is guilty of treason, bribery, and/or high crimes or misdemeanors. For members of Congress to convince their constituents that impeachment is the appropriate cause of action will shape their political futures. For the Democrats, impeachment could mean that the party is more focused on providing an opposition to Trump, rather than implementing or improving policies. For the Republicans, impeachment could mean that the party is not as united as they appear, especially as a Presidential election approaches. Additionally, Republicans who would theoretically vote to impeach Trump will face increased vulnerability and attacks from members of their own party, as well as alienation from the rest of the Republican Caucus, thus being easy targets once the time for reelection rolls around.

Impeachment may also create more problems for both parties if an impeachment trial in the Senate for Trump does not result in a removal from office. For Democrats, an unsuccessful impeachment may cause mass confusion and disarray, as well as a weaker case to be made for ousting him from office in 2020. A successful impeachment leaves Republican incumbents to face angry voters, while an unsuccessful impeachment could theoretically improve Trump's favorability. The effort by Republicans to impeach Clinton in 1998 led to higher job approval ratings for the President.

What happens if he is impeached?

In the 200 plus years of the United States Consitution, presidential impeachment is still relatively new territory. However, a few possible situations can potentially arise:

1. Trump gets pardoned by Vice President Mike Pence

Given impeachment, Pence is the next in the line of succession the Presidency, and thus assumes pardon power under Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, of the Constitution. The clause says the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

2. In addition to impeachment charges, Trump could face criminal charges.

3. And the most likely of all, Trump does not get impeached.

Featured photos: Gage Skidmore, CC-BY-SA 2.0

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