The Impeachment Process, Explained
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
The final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency will surely go down in history. After the storming of the Capitol building by armed protestors and his failed attempts to overturn the election results, Trump has become the only president in US history to be impeached twice.
This cheat sheet will take you through the impeachment process and explore the repercussions for Donald Trump’s future.
The process of impeachment
Impeachment is the process of charging a public official of misconduct. The US Constitution states that Congress has the power to impeach public officials such as the president or vice president.
Impeachment plays an important role in the separation of powers which ensures that no branch of government becomes too powerful. The threat of impeachment holds the president accountable and deters them from abusing their powers.
The process for impeaching a president is fairly straight-forward:
Basis on which a president can be impeached
According to the Constitution, ‘treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanours’ are grounds for impeachment. Although this vague wording could cover all sorts of undesirable behaviour, most impeachments have occurred because of abuses of power, improper behaviour, and misusing the office for personal gain.
Donald Trump’s second impeachment was primarily for inciting an insurrection, but the Senate ultimately fell short of the 67 votes needed to convict. He was acquitted on 13th February, despite a 57-43 vote in favour of his conviction.
Impeachment is a serious and rare occasion. Only three presidents have ever been impeached, though none have been removed from office:
Andrew Johnson in 1868, for violating the Tenure of Office Act. He was acquitted after the Senate narrowly fell short of the two-thirds majority required to convict.
Bill Clinton in 1998, for perjury and obstruction of justice after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was ultimately acquitted.
Donald Trump in 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after the Ukraine scandal. He was acquitted in 2020, with only one Republican Senator voting to convict.
The House of Representatives has started the impeachment process several times beyond these examples, most notably against President Richard Nixon in 1974 after the Watergate scandal. However, Nixon resigned before the House could proceed.
Trump’s acquittal means that he can still run for public office in the future. However, his incitement of a violent insurrection could allow Congress to invoke the 14th Amendment, declaring him ineligible to hold public office. With criminal proceedings also set to begin, efforts to hold Trump accountable for his part in the insurrection are far from over.
For more handy guides and cheat sheets on this topic, head to our dedicated US Politics section.