The impeachment process is a topic that has come up in the minds of some Americans in light of the events of the first few weeks of Donald Trump’s administration. In addition to a series of executive orders that have been met with harsh protests and, in some cases, being overturned by court orders, some of Trump’s actions in office have even raised the specter of criminality.
So what is the impeachment process, how does it work, and is Donald Trump impeachable at this point in his administration?
The Constitutional Impeachment Process
The impeachment process is laid out in Article II, Section IV of the 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.”
According to a 1999 Slate report, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is almost impossibly vague. As Gerald Ford famously quipped during the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s presidency, impeachable offenses are whatever Congress says they are.
However, if the Ford Doctrine is impossibly vague, another school of Constitutional scholarship holds that impeachment should be limited to serious crimes committed against the state, such as treason (which is specifically mentioned in the Constitution), perjury, obstruction of justice, or similar crimes.
To get the ball rolling on the impeachment process, a member of the House of Representatives need only read a list of charges under oath or refer the alleged charges to the appropriate committee. If the whole House votes (via simple majority) to impeach the president, he or she will then face a trail in the Senate. If a two-thirds majority votes in favor, the president will be removed from office.
It bears noting that “impeachment” and “removal from office” are two separate parts of the same process. It is possible for a president to be impeached but not removed from office. In fact, it’s happened twice in American history.
Andrew Johnson And Bill Clinton: The Only Two American Presidents To Be Impeached
As of this writing, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents to have been impeached.
In the Johnson case, in 1868, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach Johnson on a variety of charges, all relating to political appointments and removals that Congress alleged he made without proper authorization. In the Clinton case, in 1998, the House voted to impeach Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice (actual crimes for which you can be tried in a criminal court, although Clinton was never charged criminally for those alleged actions).
Neither man was convicted in their respective Senates, and both went on to serve the remainder of their terms.
Can The Impeachment Process Be Used Against Trump?
Whether Donald Trump has done anything deserving of impeachment will depend largely on whom you ask.
Under the wide-open Ford Doctrine, Trump could theoretically be impeached because a particular member of the House of Representatives simply doesn’t like the way he’s dressed. However, by a more strict reading of the Constitution that requires Trump to be suspected of an actual, serious criminal offense before the impeachment process begins, Trump could still very likely be impeached.
For one thing, the Constitution doesn’t require the POTUS to have committed his impeachable actions while president; and indeed, before being sworn in, Trump had already been a party to thousands of lawsuits, according to USA Today, alleging everything from nonpayment of monies owed to sexual assault. Further, many of Trump’s actions in office have drawn scrutiny for being possible unethical or even illegal. It is not outside the realm of possibility that a member of the House of Representatives may determine that Trump’s actions before or since taking office are criminal offenses and begin the impeachment process immediately.
However, as of this writing, no member of Congress has begun the impeachment process against Donald Trump.
[Featured Image by Oliver Douliery/Pool/Getty Images]