What Is Impeachment? Everything to Know About the Process and the 3 Presidents Who Have Been Impeached

No U.S. president has actually been removed from office via impeachment

Editor’s note: This article on the history of presidential impeachments was originally published on Dec. 19. On Wednesday, the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on both of his impeachment charges.

President Donald Trump has become the third president in United States history to face removal from office.

On Wednesday night, the House of Representatives officially voted in favor to impeach on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with his Ukraine scandal.

While the history-making vote does mean that Trump will stand trial, there is still a long way to go for the actual removal of the president from office via impeachment. So far, no president in the history of the U.S. has been removed from office through this process.

Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached in 1868 and 1998 respectively, but both were acquitted by the Senate.

President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he could be impeached by the House and face trial in the Senate over his coverup of the Watergate scandal.

Legally, there is one lengthy, multi-step process in which a sitting president can be removed by impeachment.

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

Trial Preparation

Following the House voting in favor of impeachment, the Senate will hold a trial per the Constitution. During this phase, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California will appoint a team of lawmakers — known as managers — to play the role of prosecutors.

Senators will sit as jurors, while Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is expected to preside Trump’s trial.

Before the trial, the Senate will issue a summons to the Trump, asking him to respond, by a set date, to the articles of impeachment approved by the House. Should the president decline to respond, his action will be regarded as a plea of not guilty.

During this time, the Senate will alsohave to reach an agreement on the trial procedures.

President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council National Summit on December 07, 2019 in Hollywood, Florida
Donald Trump. Noam Galai/WireImage

Senate Trial

A Senate trial is similar to a courtroom procedure.

Like how jurors take an oath, each senator must be sworn in a Senate trial per the Constitution.

Acting as prosecutors, the House managers will make an opening statement. Their statement will then be followed by one made from the White House counsel as well as any outside attorneys acting on the behalf of the president.

Similar to jurors in a trial, senators listen to the arguments and, should they have any questions pertaining to what is presented at the trial, submit them in writing to be asked by the chief justice.

At this time, House managers and the president’s counsel may issue subpoenas, request evidence, or examine witnesses.

The Senate will begin deliberations in a closed session after both sides make their closing arguments. The Senate then votes separately on each article of impeachment in an open session.

Per the Constitution, a two-thirds vote is required to convict on any article of impeachment, which has never happened in U.S. history. At Clinton’s trial in the ’90s, senators voted mostly along party lines to acquit, 55-45.

Given that the Senate is currently controlled by the Republican party, it is unlikely the Democratic party will be able to secure enough votes needed for impeachment.

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After Trial

Should Trump be acquitted, he will be able to continue to serve out the rest of his presidential term.

However, should Trump be convicted of any one of his charges, he will be automatically removed from office. This process will trigger the 25th Amendment, making Vice President Mike Pence the next president of the United States.

Should Pence succeed Trump, he will, in turn, need to nominate someone to act as his vice president.

Though Johnson and Clinton served out their terms following their acquittals, the 25th Amendment was enacted when Nixon resigned from the office. Gerald Ford, the then-vice president, became president and nominated former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president.

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