Three Impeachments and a Resignation
By: Susanna Conway
Photo by: Tony Netone
In the 243 years since our country’s founding, only 3 of its 46 Presidents have been impeached, with 1 resigning from office before Congress could make it official. Though coming close, party politics have prevented the Senate from reaching the ⅔ majority vote needed to convict a President, and therefore none have been removed from office. The cases of these four individuals, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump, have varied in both seriousness and effect.
On February 24th, 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, when he fired his Secretary of War from his position and attempted to replace him. This action violated Congress’s newly-passed laws regarding the tenure of office. This law, known as the Tenure of Office Act, was passed by Congressional Republicans hoping to remove Johnson from office. When the case was taken to the Senate for a trial, Johnson avoided conviction by just one vote, with the final tally being 35-19. Andrew Johnson was the first President to ever be impeached, and his case set the precedent that the conviction of a federal official should not rely on political affiliation.
Although Richard Nixon was not officially impeached, he became the first President to resign from office in 1974, after it became clear that Congress would convict him. Nixon’s accusations included obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress, following his denial of involvement in the Watergate scandal. Watergate, as it is commonly known, refers to the 1972 break-ins to the Democratic National Committee headquarters, which was carried out by individuals associated with the President. The burglars took photographs of election documents and wiretapped the building’s telephones in an attempt to aid President Nixon in his re-election campaign, and were eventually convicted for their crimes. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign from office and was officially pardoned for his crimes by his Vice-President and successor, Gerald Ford.
The second Presidential impeachment took place on October 8, 1998, when the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton on charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, lying under oath, and obstruction of justice. These accusations occured after sexual harassment claims from Paula Jones led to a trial, where, under oath, he was asked questions about his intern, Monica Lewinski, with whom he was accused of having sexual relations. Clinton denied having any sexual contact with Lewinski and continued to dismiss charges even after evidence was brought forward. Following his impeachment by the House, Clinton avoided conviction by the Senate with a vote of 45-55 and served out his second term in office.
Donald Trump (first)
The House of Representatives voted to impeach former President Donald Trump on Dec. 18, 2019, on accounts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. These charges were presented based on Trump's controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalynski. In this phone call, Trump indirectly encouraged Zalynski to interfere in the upcoming election and threatened to withhold military aid to influence Ukraine to investigate political opponents, Joe Biden. Following statements by a whistleblower in September 2019, Donald Trump encouraged his staff to ignore requests for evidence, violating Congress’s power of impeachment. Following a tense trial in the Senate, the body’s Republican majority chose not to convict Mr. Trump, who fired both the whistleblower and his twin brother following their revelations.
Donald Trump (second)
On January 13, 2021, Donald Trump became the first President to be impeached twice, with only two weeks left in office. The former President’s charges of incitement of violence followed the January 6th Capitol riots, in which angry Trump supporters broke into the US capitol in an attempt to harm members of Congress and prevent them from certifying the results of the 2020 election. Following this, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave Vice President Mike Pence an ultimatum to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would immediately require the removal of the president from office. Mike Pence, who was a target of the riots following his refusal to contest the election results, decided against invocation, forcing the House to once again hold an impeachment vote. During the vote, ten Republican representatives voted to impeach the President, setting a record for crossing party lines. The Senate trial of Donald Trump took place on February 9, the first for a departed president. As expected, the case failed to obtain the ⅔ majority vote needed to convict the former president, and with a vote of 57-43, Donald Trump was acquitted for a second time.