What You Need to Know: Impeachment in the United States

September 24, 2019

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By Gabriela Arevalo


Here’s what you need to know about impeachment in the United States.


What is impeachment?  

An impeachment is an investigation of a political official. The procedure is the equivalent of an indictment by a grand jury.

The President, Vice President, and federal officials of the United Sates can be removed from their position via an impeachment after being found guilty of treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. “High crimes and misdemeanors” are not specifically defined in the Constitution, but they cover abuse of power, behavior that is not in line with the function and purpose of their office, and the misuse of office for an improper purpose or personal gain.

At the federal level, this is decided by the House of Representatives. The Senate tries the accused and if it is the impeachment of a President, the Chief Justice of the United States presides.


How does it play out? 

Each state has its own system, but at the federal level an impeachment has three phases. First, Congress investigates the charges to determine if there is evidence that the official has committed the crime in question.

Next, the House of Representatives has to vote and pass, by a simple majority, articles of impeachment.

The last step is a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds vote is required for conviction.


Does this mean the accused is a criminal? 

Maybe. For an official to get impeached, they need to be accused of a crime, but United States law clearly states that a person cannot be declared guilty of a crime without a fair trial.



If someone is impeached does that mean they will be removed from office?

No. Impeachment proceedings simply mean that a person has been accused of committing certain crimes.

It is possible that when an impeachment trial concludes a person can be removed from their political position, but it is not an official sentence.

The official stays in their position until the trial has concluded, and only if they are found guilty of the crimes of which they have been accused are they fired.


Has this happened before? 

Yes. The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings dozens of times since the 1700s, including for three presidents. The first president was Andrew Johnson in 1868 (he was acquitted) Richard Nixon in 1974 (he resigned before the trial finished), and Bill Clinton in 1998 (he was acquitted).