Impeachment

Impeachment is when the House of Representatives charge a federal official with a crime. Those crimes include treason, bribery, or other "high crimes or misdemeanors" against the United States. That means that the official is accused of abusing his or her power or the authority of his or her office.

The first step in the process is when a resolution is taken to the Judiciary Committee. The resolution asks that the committee investigate the possibility of an impeachable crime. The Judiciary Committee must decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with the impeachment process. If so, the House of Representatives then votes on the Judiciary Committee's recommendation and decides if there should be an impeachment hearing.

The next step is for the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings to investigate all of the charges. Depending on what the committee discovers, there could be more charges. Then the committee votes on the bills of impeachment and issues the articles of impeachment to the House of Representatives. The articles of impeachment explain the charges against the official. From there, the House votes on whether or not the impeachment should move forward to the Senate. All that it takes is a majority to move the bill of impeachment forward but it is at this point in the process that the majority of impeachment cases come to and end.

However, if the House agrees with the Judiciary Committee and the impeachment process continues, there is a trial in the Senate. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court oversees the trial and the Senate is the jury. The person who is on trial is defended by private lawyers. Each article of impeachment is voted on and if two-thirds of the Senate agrees, the official is removed from office.

Impeachment in the U.S. government is rare. Sixteen officials have been impeached and the Senate has voted to convict seven of those people. No president has ever been impeached. There have only been three presidents who have had their impeachment process move to the final stages. In 1868, Andrew Johnson avoided impeachment by one vote. He and Congress did not agree about Reconstruction laws and policies after the Civil War. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal before the House could vote on the articles of impeachment.


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