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The Federal Impeachment Process Explained

There’s a lot of confusion about impeachment.

If you notice a yellow highlight on the page, hover over it for the definition!

A lot of people don’t really understand the process of impeachment, and the recent case with President Donald Trump didn’t make it any clearer. It is a simple legal process akin to a grand jury indictment followed by a trial and can be brought on a federal or state level against public officials.

The Founding Fathers identified two specific actions – treason and bribery – they believed were serious enough charges to remove a duly elected president. The term “high crimes and misdemeanors” are also grounds to impeach, but the broad definition does not make the process easy.

In a federal impeachment against a sitting elected official, the U.S. House of Representatives has the responsibility to issue charges while the U.S. Senate hears the case against the person accused acting as a jury. A state impeachment is a bit different, as each state’s legislature must adhere to its own constitution. They might not be the same provisions as are laid out in the U.S. Constitution.

Either federal or state impeachment processes are designed for the removal of an official from office and were not designed to be used for political purposes to advance any agenda that is not the will of the people.

America just witnessed an impeachment against a sitting president. Since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, only three presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

The process is as follows:

  • The investigation usually begins in the House Judiciary Committee, which compiles evidence and prepares the formal allegation.
  • The House then must pass by a simple majority of representatives present and voting articles of impeachment, which make up the formal indictment. When a simple majority votes for impeachment, the defendant is impeached.
  • Finally, the articles of Impeachment are sent to the U.S. Senate for trial. In the case of a presidential impeachment, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court presides.

The U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to convict an impeached person and those formal documents are then filed with the Secretary of State. If a conviction is rendered, the person impeached must then leave his or her office. With an acquittal, the person may remain in office.

Where many people get confused is they believe that impeached means guilty, and removed from office. That isn’t the case. Impeached means indicted, or formally accused. Only a conviction by the Senate is a guilty verdict. Even if convicted in an impeachment, a president faces no additional punishment than removal from office.

Sarah Cowgill

National Columnist at and Sarah has been a writer in the political and corporate worlds for over 25 years. As a sought-after speech writer, her clients included CEOs, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governors, and even a Vice President. She’s worked as Contributing Editor at Scottsdale Life, a news reporter for the Journal and Courier, and guest opinion political writer for numerous publications nationwide. A born storyteller, Sarah has published a full-length book and is currently finishing a quirky, sarcastic, second novel.

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