On Tuesday night, September 24, after months of division among Democrats, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) announced the chamber’s decision to formally launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in response to the president's discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky that included a request that Zelensky investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 presidential election rival, and his son’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Below is a brief overview of the impeachment process and an overview of the Clinton impeachment timeline. We will continue to send updates with any new developments.
Please note that impeachment carries with it a number of political and legislative implications for Congress, so please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
The U.S. Constitution states the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Throughout its history, Congress has generally defined the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” to include exceeding or abusing the powers of the presidency, or misusing the office for improper purpose or gain.
In her comments last night, Speaker Pelosi said she is directing six committees that are already investigating President Trump – Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight, Ways and Means, and Financial Services – to proceed with their probes under the “umbrella” of a formal impeachment process.
If the Democrats decide to move forward with impeachment proceedings against the president, these committees will each provide their recommendations for what should be included in one or more articles of impeachment. It is likely that Speaker Pelosi will play a significant role in how the proceedings move forward and what articles of impeachment will be included in the resolution.
The House Judiciary Committee would then consider the articles of impeachment resolution and schedule a vote on it. If the resolution is passed by the Committee, then the full House would likely hold a vote to impeach the president.
If a majority of House members voted for the impeachment resolution, then the president will have been impeached.
Although there are no set rules for a Senate trial, the Senate would then, most likely, serve essentially as a jury tasked with the decision to convict the president and remove him from office or acquit the president of the charges against him through a guilty or not guilty vote on each article of impeachment.
The resolution to set the trial in motion, though, and the procedures governing the trial are all set by majority vote. The Republican majority in the Senate could vote to immediately dismiss the case without any consideration of the evidence. However, several vulnerable Republican Senators in swing states up for reelection and other Senators that have publicly criticized the President’s actions on the call could provide the votes needed to move a trial forward.
To convict and remove the president would require the support from a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, in the Senate on any article. If found guilty the president would be removed from office and the vice president would take over.
To give a sense of what we could see from the timeline of potential impeachment proceedings, below is a brief timeline of the previous impeachment of President Clinton.
On October 5, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee voted to launch a congressional impeachment inquiry against President.
On October 8, 1998, the full House of Representatives voted for impeachment proceedings to begin against Clinton.
On December 11, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment on a 21-16 party line vote. The three articles accused President Clinton of lying to a grand jury, committing perjury by denying he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, and obstructing justice.
On December 9, 1998, President Clinton was impeached by the Republican controlled House, approving two of articles (lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice) of impeachment by votes of 228-206 and 221-212.
On January 7, 1999, the Senate formally began its impeachment trial of the president on the two charges approved by the House, with Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Rehnquist presiding with Chief Prosecutor Henry Hyde and his team of Republicans from the House Judiciary Committee and the President’s defense team including White House Counsel Cheryl Mills and her staff. A resolution on rules and procedure for the trial was adopted unanimously on the following day.
On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted against convicting President Clinton on the two articles by a vote of 55-45 on perjury and 50-50 on obstruction.