What is Impeachment?

What is Impeachment?

By: Robert Scott

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Should President Donald Trump be impeached? That is a political question, and depending on your politics, you might answer with the most adamant “No!” Or you might answer “I don’t think so, at least not yet.” Or you might answer, “Absolutely! Have you not been paying attention?” But a more fundamental question is, what is impeachment, anyway?

The online Legal Dictionary defines impeachment this way: “A process that is used to charge, try, and remove public officials for misconduct while in office.” Fundamentally, impeachment is a trial – a trial that produces a verdict one way or the other. To impeach a public official is to have a trial for them; two Presidents have been impeached (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), but neither was found guilty and removed from office.

Here is how the Constitution answers some questions. Note the 18th-Century spelling and capitalization.

What actions can result in impeachment? 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.” The Constitution defines treason against the United States in Article III, Section 3 as consisting “only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; but the definitions of “Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” are not given.

Who decides whether to bring impeachment charges? Article I, Section 2: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” So, the House of Representatives decides what constitutes “Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” investigates the conduct of the President, and if in their judgment it is warranted – and it is solely up to the House to decide – they order an impeachment.

Who acts as the judge and jury? Article I, Section 3 subsection 6: “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.”

What punishments are possible from impeachment? Article I, Section 3 subsection 7: “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment 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.” If a President is removed from office, criminal and other liabilities can follow.

All of which leaves the question still open: Should President Donald Trump be impeached? On that, the Constitution is silent. It is up to the House of Representatives to decide.

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