WASHINGTON, D.C. — Officially, only two former presidents have been impeached – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, both of whom were acquitted by the Senate. Impeachment proceedings were also in place for President Richard Nixon, but since Nixon resigned the Presidency before Congress could act, he was never officially impeached.
To impeach a president (or any federal official), the House of Representatives must first decide whether there are sufficient grounds to do so. Per the Constitution, presidents can be impeached for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. If a president is found committing such crimes, then the House can pursue the impeachment process. However, it is only the Senate that has the power to try the impeachment. Here’s the run-down on the two official impeachment cases.
On February 24, 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for the violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The bill limited presidential interference in the southern Reconstruction by prohibiting him from removing Senate-appointed officials without Senate approval. Johnson first violated this act by removing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and replacing him with General Ulysses S. Grant. Ultimately, Grant returned the office to Stanton, but by then President Johnson was already in the House of Representative’s impeachment radar.
It wasn’t until President Johnson’s second violation of the Tenure of Office Act when the House decided to officially impeach the president. In his second violation of the bill, President Johnson again sought to replace Stanton, this time with Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. The impeachment trial began shortly thereafter. However, President Johnson was acquitted by a narrow margin as Congress was unable to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to convict him.
More than a hundred years later, on December 19, 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice after he lied about his extramarital affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky was revealed in 1997 when Lewinsky’s co-worker Linda Tripp secretly recorded her conversations with Lewinsky and went to the FBI. In these recordings, Lewinsky spoke about her sexual relations with Clinton which had spanned more than a year and a half.
Initially, President Clinton publicly denied the allegations with the now-infamous words “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” Soon after, Clinton admitted to the affair in front of the grand jury and later the public in a brief televised speech. Like Johnson, Clinton was acquitted and continued the remainder of his term in office.
The impeachment process has been used sparingly throughout U.S. history, as it requires serious misconduct and an immense amount of time and investigation to carry out. Although impeaching a president is never the ideal case, the power to do so is given to Congress to protect the integrity of the democratic system.
– Catherine Ticzon