The founding founders of the United States of America were gripped with fear of presidents abusing their powers so they enshrined in the US Constitution a process for removing one from office. The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for these reasons “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”.
High crimes and misdemeanours have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.
Former president Gerald Ford, while in congress, famously said: “An impeachable offence is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.
Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment”, by a simple majority of the body’s members.
The constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.
The House intelligence committee investigated whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to open probes that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.
The House judiciary committee used the report to draft formal charges and voted 23-17 along party lines to approve charges against Trump of abuse of power and obstructing House Democrats’ attempts to investigate him for it.
If the full House approves articles of impeachment as expected, there will be a trial in the Senate.
House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides. Historically, the president has been allowed to have defence lawyers call witnesses and request documents.
CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?
There is debate about whether the constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.
Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a move is politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.
* WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?
Democrats control the House. The House comprises 431 members at present, 233 of whom are Democrats. As a result, the Democrats could impeach the Republican Trump with no Republican support.
In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.
The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority. Republicans are seen as highly unlikely to convict the leader of their party. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.