The word “impeachment” has been making headlines and showing up in news feeds on a daily basis for weeks now, after President Donald Trump was impeached on December 18, 2019, following an inquiry stage that was initiated on September 24, 2019. The President Trump impeachment trial began on January 16, 2020. In this blog post, we’d like to briefly discuss what impeachment is and the history of presidential impeachment in the United States.

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the process in which a legislature accuses a government official of a crime and can possibly remove them from their elected position. The process goes back to 14th century England and was adopted by our founding fathers when they put together the Constitution. Typically, these crimes occur while in office, although in some cases, impeachment charges have been brought for crimes committed prior to taking office.

Impeachment is not removal from office. When an official is impeached, they remain in office until an impeachment trial is held. If convicted, the punishment is removal from office. The Constitution limits grounds for impeachment to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” although high crimes and misdemeanors are not specifically defined.

Which U.S. presidents have been impeached?

Only three U.S. presidents have been impeached: President Andrew Johnson, President Bill Clinton, and President Donald Trump. Although President Nixon resigned from office, he was not impeached. Impeachment articles were prepared against him, but he resigned before he could be impeached or face a trial. Notably, Nixon was the only man ever to resign from the U.S. presidency.

What is President Trump accused of doing?

At the most basic level, President Trump is accused of abusing his power for political gain. This allegedly occurred specifically, on July 25, 2019, in a phone call with the president of Ukraine.  Prior to the call, Trump withheld $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine and used it as a bargaining chip to urge President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate allegations against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump asked for an investigation as a favor, specifically saying, “I would like you to do us a favor.”

What is the evidence against President Trump?

On August 12, 2019, an anonymous complaint was filed by a member of the intelligence community, protected by the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.  President Trump was made aware of the complaint in late August, and the public (and members of Congress) became aware of the complaint on September 9, 2019. A non-verbatim memorandum of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky was released by the White House on September 24, 2019. The next day, the whistleblower complaint was released to Congress.

What’s next for President Trump?

As the trial continues, only time can tell what is next. After the Senate impeachment trial, a vote will be held. President Trump can only be removed from office if more than two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict him. Despite facing possible removal from office, President Trump continues to campaign for the 2020 presidential election.