In its nearly 250 years of history, the US has seen only three presidents getting impeachment. Albeit, none of the three men to have faced it — Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — have been removed from office.
According to the Time, to be impeached, a President or other federal official must have committed one of the violations described by the US Constitution as "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
As the US House session convenes on Wednesday to proceed with President Donald Trump's impeachment following the Capitol Hill riot, and his role in instigating it, Trump remains the only president till now in the country's history to be facing impeachment twice in his term.
But history shows that if a President is to be impeached, the biggest factor may be political will — whether members of a president's own party are willing to turn against him, and whether enough members of Congress believe that trying to remove the President is worth the risk of losing popular support. In case of Trump, both Republicans and Democrats seem to have found a common disliking.
Impeachment alone isn't the only step to take a President out of office, but is actually the first part of a two-pronged process. To impeach an official, the House of Representatives must pass articles of impeachment, which formally accuse the President of misbehavior. Once the House votes to impeach, the Senate must hold a trial to decide if the President should be removed from office.
Here are the US Presidents who have been impeached:
Andrew Johnson (1865 – 1869)
The aftermath of the US Civil War set the stage for the first impeachment of a US President. After President Abraham Lincoln's death, he was succeeded by his Vice President, Andrew Johnson. The 17th president of the US was a pro-Union Democrat who had refused to secede from the Union along with his state, Tennessee, during the war.
However, he was also a racist who favored a lenient approach to Reconstruction, the process of bringing the states of the Confederacy back into the nation. He clashed with Congress throughout his term, vetoing bills he felt were too harsh on the South — including the Freedmen's Bureau Acts, which gave displaced southerners, including African Americans, access to food, shelter, medical aid and land.
This approach put him at odds with Congress. The final straw came when he replaced Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Lincoln appointee who sided with the Radical Republicans, a faction of the party that favored enfranchisement and civil rights for freed African Americans.
Congress produced 11 articles of impeachment, which alleged that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act — a law intended to limit presidential power to remove federal appointees from office — and had found a replacement without consulting the Senate. Johnson was impeached by a two-thirds super majority of the House, and the case moved to the Senate for trial. Years later, the Supreme Court determined that the act was unconstitutional.
When he was tried in the Senate, Johnson ultimately held onto his presidency by a single vote, after seven Republicans decided to vote with Senate Democrats to keep him in office.
Johnson's defense argued that he hadn't appointed Secretary of War Stanton in the first place, which meant that he wasn't violating the Tenure of Office Act. They also claimed that Johnson intended to push the Act before the Supreme Court.
This result set a major precedent for future presidential impeachments: that Presidents shouldn't be impeached for political reasons, but only if they commit, as the Constitution stipulates, "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Bill Clinton (1993 – 2001)
Like Johnson, the 42th president of the US, Bill Clinton too had stirred up a lot of anger in Congress.
After his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky became public in January 1998, Clinton at first adamantly denied to federal investigators — and the public — having had "sexual relations" with her.
The articles of impeachment alleged that Clinton had perjured himself by lying to investigators about his relationship with Lewinsky. They also said that he had obstructed justice by encouraging White House staff to deny the affair.
The outcome of Clinton's trial reinforced the precedent that Presidents should only be removed from office only in limited circumstances. While many Senators agreed that Clinton had behaved badly, they ultimately decided that his misconduct wasn't at the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Experts say that the effort to remove Clinton from office was doomed because public opinion turned against removing Clinton from office. In fact, Clinton's job-approval rating peaked during the week of the impeachment.
Donald Trump (2017-2021)
Donald J Trump, the 45th president of the US, was impeached on 18 December, 2019, on two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The two charges against the President — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — stem from a 25 July phone call with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. The content of the call first came to national attention after a whistleblower filed a report expressing concern that Trump had pushed Ukraine to investigate an energy company for which the son of his political rival, former vice president and now the president-elect, Joe Biden, sat on the board.
At around that time, the Trump administration also withheld military aid from Ukraine, and Ukraine was working to secure a meeting between Zelensky and Trump.
Testimony by current and former US government officials in Fall 2019 fleshed out a narrative about how officials affiliated with the Trump Administration — including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland — urged Ukraine to conduct that investigation, as well as one into the debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
The Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee, in outlining its case against the President, said that Trump had "betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections," and tried to interfere with Congress' Constitutionally protected power to impeach a President. The legislators also argue that Trump's misconduct continued during the impeachment inquiry. They allege that he attempted to interfere with the investigation by ordering Executive Branch officials not to comply with Congressional subpoenas for testimony and documents.
Trump became the third president in US history on 5 February, 2020, to be impeached by the US House and then acquitted by the Senate.
His acquittal came on a near party-line vote, reinforcing divisions at the end of a bitterly partisan process. The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump on abuse of power and 53-47 to acquit him on obstruction of Congress; Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, was the only senator of either party to break ranks, voting to convict Trump on the abuse of power charge.
Many of the Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump said the final verdict should be left up to the voters at the ballot box in 2020. It's still an open question whether the impeachment process will help or hurt Trump at the polls.
Trump and some of his associates say that impeachment could benefit him politically by mobilizing his base, while others have argued that the proceedings will contribute to the aura of chaos around his administration. Tad Devine, a strategist for Al Gore, previously told the LA Times that he believes that, although many people think Bill Clinton's impeachment helped the Democrats, it actually boosted Republicans into the White House.
Immediately after the acquittal, Trump's campaign was projecting extreme confidence.
"Since the President's campaign only got bigger and stronger as a result of this nonsense," Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement after the conclusion of the trial, "this impeachment hoax will go down as the worst miscalculation in American political history."