What happens when you are impeached

USA: How does impeachment work?

The Democrats in Washington want to launch an official investigation into Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, in the House of Representatives. The aim is to determine whether he was guilty of misconduct in his controversial telephone conversation with the Ukrainian head of state Volodymyr Zelenskyj that justified his removal from office.

Trump is suspected of having made the release of military aid for Ukraine conditional on Kiev supplying him with compromising information about the son of the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Bidens.

The US President is also accused of enriching the office and obstructing the investigation into the Russia contacts of former Trump employees. However, the US constitution sets high hurdles for the impeachment of a president.

What is an impeachment?

Impeachment is a United States constitutional way of removing a president, member of government, or judge prematurely. "Treason, corruption, or other serious crimes and misdemeanors" are cited as cases in which Congress may remove the president. There is no clear definition of how grave the President's misconduct must be for his impeachment to be justified. Ultimately, it depends less on legal interpretations than on the majority structure in Congress whether an impeachment process gets underway and is successful.

The constitution names "treason and bribery" as reasons for impeachment

How does the procedure work?

Formally, any member of the House of Representatives can initiate impeachment proceedings. House Chairwoman Nancy Pelosi has already taken this first step by announcing an investigation. In previous cases, this was done by the Judiciary Committee. However, according to Pelosi, the current investigation against Trump is to be carried out jointly by six committees. As part of this investigation, witnesses are questioned, evidence is evaluated and, if necessary, allegations are formulated.

In the next step, the plenary session of the House of Representatives will vote on a kind of indictment. A simple majority is enough for the accusation to be formally raised - this is what is known as impeachment.

A trial then begins in the Senate in which witnesses are heard again. Then the senators decide on the guilt of the accused. A two-thirds majority is required to remove him from office.

Will Trump be the first US president to be removed from office?

How likely is Trump's impeachment?

The Republicans tip the scales in this case. Because the Democrats have a clear majority of 235 of the current 434 MPs in the House of Representatives. So it is up to you to decide on an impeachment against Trump. In the Senate, however, Trump's Republicans dominate. They hold 53 of the 100 seats there. In order to drive Trump out of office, the Democrats would have to win at least 20 Republican allies in the Senate.

Have there already been cases of impeachment in the USA?

There have been three cases in US history where the House of Representatives has chosen to initiate impeachment proceedings. However, an impeachment has never been successful.

Impeachment proceedings were initiated three times, but each time without success

  • In 1868, the case against Andrew Johnson was initiated because he should have overridden the say in Congress in the filling of government posts. In the end, only one vote was missing in the Senate for his impeachment.
  • In 1974 Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate Affair, when the impeachment process was still in its early stages. The Judiciary Committee had resolved a formal allegation by the President of eavesdropping on the Democrats, and it was already becoming apparent that the required majorities would be achieved. So here the president came before the impeachment.
  • In 1998, impeachment proceedings began against Bill Clinton for attempting to cover up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. He had lied under oath and is also said to have hampered the work of the judiciary. But the two-thirds majority in the Senate was clearly missed and Clinton was able to stay in office.

What happens after an impeachment?

Impeachment proceedings can take a long time - with Bill Clinton it was around five months. Should US President Donald Trump actually be removed from office through such a process, the Vice President would move up and take over the office until the end of the regular legislative period. That would mean Mike Pence would become the US head of state by 2021.