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AFP
January 14, 2021

Impeachment of a US president and how it works

World

AFP
January 14, 2021

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump is on the brink of becoming the first US president to have been impeached twice, with the House of Representatives beginning a debate on Wednesday on accusations he incited an insurrection at the US Capitol last week. No president has been ousted from office by impeachment, but even the threat can bring one down -- Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid certain removal in the Watergate scandal.

Three presidents have beaten the process: the House formally impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but in both cases they were acquitted in the Senate. Trump, of course, was the third: the House first voted to impeach him in 2019 after a political scandal over his attempt to seek dirt from Ukraine on his then-potential 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

His trial in the Republican-controlled Senate began on January 16, 2020 -- almost exactly one year ago -- and he was acquitted. If lawmakers believe a president is guilty of what the US Constitution calls "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," the process begins in the House of Representatives.

Any member can introduce an impeachment resolution which, like any other bill, is sent to a committee. The process can be also be started without a resolution, as with the current impeachment inquiry. The committee can review the evidence it receives, or carry out an investigation itself.

If the evidence is strong enough, the committee crafts articles of impeachment -- the political equivalent of criminal charges -- and sends them to the full House. The House can pass the articles by a simple majority vote, "impeaching" the president.

The articles then go to the Senate, where a trial takes place, with representatives from the House acting as prosecutors and the president and his attorneys presenting his defense.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial in the Senate. The 100-member Senate then votes on the charges, with a two-thirds majority necessary to convict and remove the president.

If the president is convicted, the vice president then takes over the White House. The accusations have to meet the constitutional standard of "high crimes or misdemeanors." In the cases of Clinton and Nixon, independent prosecutors amassed evidence to support criminal charges.

Nixon was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt. Clinton, in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was accused of perjury and obstruction. Trump faced two articles of impeachment the first time around. The first -- abuse of power -- said he wielded the authority of his office to solicit the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 presidential election.