As the markets get all hot and bothered over the suddenly very real possibility of President Trump being impeached just a few months into the job, we cast our beady eyes over the history and process of impeaching the President of the United States…
How Impeachment works
Impeachment is the process in which formal charges can be brought against any civil officer of government, including the President of the United States, if crimes are alleged to have occurred. But getting rid of the most powerful politician on the planet is not an easy task.
The House of Representatives must first authorise the process, before then providing a majority vote in favour of impeachment. Once that has occurred, the proceedings head up to the Senate for a trial under the watchful eye of the chief justice of the Supreme Court - currently John Glover Roberts Jr, who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2005.
In order to convict and remove a sitting President, a two-thirds majority (67 senators) is required. In total throughout US history, Congress has seen just 62 impeachment proceedings, with just 19 of those going to trial and only eight federal officials ever being convicted. As for the removal of a President? Well…
…It’s never happened before
One thing worth remembering in all this is that, despite all the talk of Trump being impeached, it’s actually very rare for a President to suffer such ignominy. So rare in fact, that only three of the USA’s 45 presidents have even been subject to impeachment proceedings.
First there was Andrew Johnson in 1868, for sacking Abraham Lincoln’s war secretary without Senate approval. Bill Clinton was in hot bother in 1998 for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, yet both were acquitted in the Senate (Johnson survived by only one vote). Richard Nixon is often misremembered as having been impeached and convicted for his role in the 1974 Watergate scandal, but Tricky Dicky lived up to his name by resigning before the US constitution could catch up to him.
But it’s still preferable to the alternative
It was Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, who suggested adding the impeachment process to the constitution at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 as a way of removing any politician who had “rendered himself obnoxious”.
His reasoning was solid, claiming that without impeachment (a Roman concept) history had shown that the only other way citizens could remove their leaders had been by assassination, which according to Franklin would “not only deprive him of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character.” And so, the following was added to the US constitution under Article II, Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Shortest-serving President of the USA
Even if Trump does become the first ever US President to be successfully convicted, with over 100 days in office already, he’ll at least sleep at night knowing he’s not the “Sam Allardyce” of US politics. That distinction lies with the unfortunate William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia in 1841 just 31 days into office. It gets worse: according to popular belief he contracted his illness after not wearing a coat or hat during his inauguration.
Be careful what you wish for
Should Trump be removed, the constitution states that the Vice President is to take the oath of Office and take over immediately. Unlike Trump, current VP Mike Pence is a long-serving Republican and traditional conservative. It also seems he doesn’t quite have Trump’s fervour for tweeting.
And yet, while that may seem an improvement in the eyes of many Republicans, liberals and Democrats may not rest so easy. Pence’s evangelical Christian beliefs influence much of his politics; he is anti-abortion, is against gay marriage, is an overt climate-change denier, and was even against women serving in the US military.
Will it happen this time?
Given that the Republicans control both the House and the Senate, it still seems unlikely that Trump would be convicted unless further evidence comes to light that suggests the President is obstructing the course of justice. The findings of the new special counsel appointed to investigate Trump’s links to Russia, former FBI director Robert Mueller, could well uncover the “smoking gun” that does for Trump.
The bookies are certainly starting to suspect it might be on the horizon, and they're rarely on the wrong side of history. Ladbrokes are offering 4/6 that Trump will be impeached, while Paddy Power offer 21/10 that it will occur this year, and 6/1 that it will happen in 2018. They make treason, at 10/3, the favourite on what Trump will be impeached for, with Tax evasion (4/1), Perjury (7/1) and Bribery (10/1) bringing up the rear.