How many presidents have been impeached? This article lists those presidents and describes the conditions of their impeachment.
A total of three U.S. Presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives. The first was Andrew Johnson, in 1868, for dismissing Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. The second was Bill Clinton, in 1998 for charges of lying under oath in regards to sexual relations with a White House intern. The third was Donald Trump on December 18, 2019, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress regarding a formal House inquiry found that he had sought foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential bid, but then —the House argued—obstructed the inquiry by calling on administration officials to ignore subpoenas for evidence.
All three presidents were acquitted in trials that were held by the Senate because the two-thirds majority votes needed to convict them, were not reached. This meant the presidents remained in office and continued to serve. Johnson and Clinton finished their terms in office.
President Richard M. Nixon also faced impeachment after the Watergate scandal in 1974 but, as it was near-certain that he would be removed from office, Nixon decided to resign before the impeachment process could be completed.
Andrew Johnson Impeachment
The event that resulted in the impeachment action was Johnson’s firing of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, a Lincoln appointee and ally of the Radical Republicans. Stanton had strongly opposed Johnson’s Reconstruction policies. Johnson wanted to replace him with Ulysses S. Grant, whom the president thought to be more in line with his own politics. In August of 1867, during a congressional recess, Johnson suspended Stanton and appointed Grant as secretary of war ad interim. The Senate opposed Johnson’s actions and reinstated Stanton, soGrant resigned, fearing punitive action and possible consequences for his own run for president. Johnson fired Stanton and informed Congress of this action, then named Major General Lorenzo Thomas, a long-time foe of Stanton, as interim secretary. Stanton promptly had Thomas arrested for illegally seizing his office.
Here’s how the U.S. Senate website summarizes the articles of impeachment:
The committee quickly produced charges that eventually became eleven articles of impeachment. Some of the charges were petty, but most centered on the president’s alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Article 1 stated that Johnson ordered Stanton removed with the intent to violate the act. Articles 2, 3 and 8 alleged that the appointment of Thomas, to replace Stanton, without the advice and consent of the Senate was a further violation of the Constitution. Articles 4 through 7 accused Johnson of conspiring with Thomas to remove Stanton, citing such conspiracy as a “high crime in office,” thus illegally depriving Stanton of his rightful position. The 8th article charged Johnson with conspiring to deprive Stanton of his rightful possessions. Article 9 accused Johnson of diverting orders and instructions related to military operations through the general of the army, bypassing Secretary Stanton. Another article, proposed by Massachusetts representative Benjamin Butler, charged Johnson with making speeches “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” with the intent to disgrace Congress. This article was initially rejected, but later adopted as Article 10. The final article was championed by Thaddeus Stevens, accusing Johnson of declaring the 39th Congress unconstitutional, since it was a Congress of only part of the states, and therefore did not have legislative powers nor the power to propose constitutional amendments. This, argued Stevens, placed Johnson in violation of his presidential oath requiring him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Johnson’s foes maneuvered a vote on only 3 of the 11 articles of impeachment, thinking they were the strongest. In May 1868, 35 Senators voted to convict the president of “high crimes and misdemeanors”; 19 voted to acquit. A majority voted against the president, but the necessary two-thirds majority fell by one vote. The same result was for articles two and three. Among the 19 senators who voted to acquit were seven “Republican Recusants.” They defied their party to save the impeached president. “I cannot agree to destroy the harmonious working of the Constitution,” concluded Senator James Grimes of Iowa, “for the sake of getting rid of an Unacceptable President.”
Bill Clinton Impeachment
In January 1998, news broke that Bill Clinton had engaged in an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. This story was sensational but also had legal implications. Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Whitewater land was not moving forward, but when evidence of the Lewinsky affair emerged, Starr believed it was a pattern of protection of the president in exchange for employment. Investigators questioned Clinton under oath about his relationship. The testimony, the later efforts by the White House to deal with evidence that bore signs of tampering, and charged of lying under oath, were the bases of Starr’s charges of illegal conduct and evidence for Clinton’s impeachment.
The Senate opened its trial in early 1999. Those against impeachment said Clinton’s actions constituted “low” and tawdry actions involving private matters, not “high crimes and misdemeanors” amounting to offenses against the state. Those against Clinton said a president who commits perjury and obstructs justice is subverting the rule of law, and that subversion becomes a “high crime.” The president was acquitted on February 12, 1999. Clinton was acquitted on both counts on February 12, 1999. Forty-five Republican senators voted to convict while 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted for acquittal. On the second article of obstruction of justice, a total of fifty Republicans voted for conviction while 45 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted for acquittal.
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