As talks of impeachment have become more prevalent in the national conversation due to the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, the confusion regarding how the process works at the federal level and what is constitutional has been heightened.
The constitutional reasonings for impeachment are treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors.
The vague description of high crimes and misdemeanors allow for broad interpretations. Alexander Hamilton described impeachment in Federalist Paper #65 as, ““those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
High crimes and misdemeanors would be the grounds that impeachment was brought against former President Bill Clinton where high crimes and misdemeanors were interpreted to include perjury and obstruction of justice.
Impeachment only refers to the office of President, Vice President and all civil officers. This means that only the Executive and Judicial branches of the United States government are subjected to being impeached.
The impeachment process begins in the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives as an impeachment inquiry to gather evidence. This may also occur in the House Intelligence Committee. Once the evidence is gathered it can then be assembled into individual indictments which are then called the Articles of Impeachment. The House then debates and votes on the individual indictments and if they receive a majority vote they are sent to the Senate.
When the passed indictments move to the Senate, then an officer is considered to be impeached but not yet removed from office.
During the next part of the impeachment process, a committee of representatives act as prosecutors and the Senate acts as the jury with the Chief Justice of The United States presiding over the trials. The President will then be summoned to appear before the Senate and enter a plea which is automatically entered as “Not guilty” if the defendant doesn’t show up. These prosecutors then present evidence and call witnesses to the Senate’s High Court of Impeachment where they are cross-examined. Attorneys to the President also may also call and cross-examine witnesses in order to defend the President from the claims.
The Senate can then vote to either acquit or convict the President of impeachment. The Senate majority leader can also refuse to hold a trial and move to vote to dismiss the Articles of Impeachment. If a vote is held, there is two-thirds majority requirement to be convicted. If convicted the President is then removed from office.