The historical significance of President Trump’s second impeachment

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On Wednesday, Trump became the first US president in history to be impeached twice after the House of Representatives voted on one article of impeachment, charging him with inciting the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building.

Only two other presidents — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — have been impeached before Donald Trump. Here’s a look at the past US presidential impeachments and the historical significance of Trump’s second.

Theodore R. Davis’s illustration of President Johnson’s impeachment trial in the Senate, published in Harper’s Weekly

Andrew Johnson, 1868

Votes in favor: 126
Votes against: 47

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was initiated on February 24, 1868, when the United States House of Representatives resolved to impeach Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, which were detailed in 11 articles of impeachment.

The primary charge against Johnson was that he had violated the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress in March 1867, over his veto. Specifically, he had removed from office Edwin M. Stanton, the secretary of war — whom the act was largely designed to protect—and attempted to replace him with Brevet Major General Lorenzo Thomas. 

On February 24, 1868, three days after Johnson’s dismissal of Stanton, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 (with 17 members not voting) in favor of a resolution to impeach the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Thaddeus Stevens addressed the House prior to the vote.

“This is not to be the temporary triumph of a political party”, Thaddeus Stevens said, “but is to endure in its consequence until this whole continent shall be filled with a free and untrammeled people or shall be a nest of shrinking, cowardly slaves.”

Almost all Republicans present supported impeachment, while every Democrat voted against it. A stark contrast to the reality of yesterdays impeachment.

President Richard Nixon said he was calling for “the full cooperation of all the American people in sacrificing a little so that no one must endure real hardship.” | AP Photo

Richard Nixon, 1973

The impeachment process against Richard Nixon began in the United States House of Representatives on October 30, 1973, following the series of high-level resignations and firings widely called the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the course of the Watergate scandal.

The House Committee on the Judiciary set up an impeachment inquiry staff and began investigations into possible impeachable offenses by Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. The process was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the House granted the Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach Nixon of high crimes and misdemeanors under Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution.

This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Republican Nixon administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement; during those hearings the scope of the scandal became apparent and the existence of the Nixon White House tapes was revealed.

In May 1974, the House Judiciary Committee began formal impeachment hearings against Nixon. On July 27 of that year, the first article of impeachment against the president was passed. Two more articles, for abuse of power and contempt of Congress, were approved on July 29 and 30.

On August 5, Nixon complied with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that he provide transcripts of the missing tapes, and the new evidence clearly implicated him in a cover up of the Watergate break-in. On August 8, Nixon announced his resignation, becoming the first president in U.S. history to voluntarily leave office. After departing the White House on August 9, Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford, who, in a controversial move, pardoned Nixon on September 8, 1974, making it impossible for the former president to be prosecuted for any crimes he might have committed while in office.

Source: Washington Examiner

Bill Clinton, 1998

Votes in favor: 228
Votes against: 206

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was initiated on October 8, 1998, when the United States House of Representatives voted to commence impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The specific charges against Clinton were lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The charges stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones and from the presidents testimony where he denied having engaged in a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

On Dec. 19, 1998, Clinton became the second American president to be impeached, when the House formally adopted two articles of impeachment and forwarded them to the United States Senate for adjudication. Two other articles were considered, but subsequently rejected.

A trial in the Senate began in January 1999, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. On February 12, Clinton was acquitted on both counts as neither received the necessary two-thirds majority vote of the senators present for conviction and removal from office — in this instance 67. On Article One, 45 senators voted to convict while 55 voted for acquittal. On Article Two, 50 senators voted to convict while 50 voted for acquittal. Clinton remained in office for the remainder of his second term.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 08: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House June 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump is traveling to Canada to attend the G7 summit before heading to Singapore on Saturday for a planned U.S.-North Korea summit. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, 2019

Votes in favor: 230
Votes against: 197

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, was impeached for the first time by the House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2019. The House adopted two articles of impeachment against Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate acquitted Trump of these charges on Feb. 5, 2020.

Trump’s impeachment came after a formal House inquiry alleged that he had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential electionto help his re-election bid, and then obstructed the inquiry itself by telling his administration officials to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony.

The inquiry reported that Trump withheld military aid and an invitation to the White House to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in order to influence Ukraine to announce an investigation into Trump’s political opponent Joe Biden and to promote a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind interference in the 2016 presidential election. A phone call between Trump and Zelensky on July 25, 2019 was particularly important—whistleblower Alexander Vindman was a participant in the call, and later informed Congress.

Donald Trump is the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Before Trump, Johnson was the only president to be impeached in his first term. 

In an historic vote on Feb. 5, 2020 the U.S. Senate decided not to impeach President Donald Trump, pardoning all articles against him. 

The senate found President Trump “not guilty” of the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, with a vote of 52-48. 34 votes were needed for all acquittals in each case. Regarding the obstruction of congress charge, Senators at Capitol Hill found that President Trump was also “not guilty.” The vote was 53-47.

Donald Trump, 2021

Votes in favor: 232
Votes against: 197

Trump was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives on Jan. 13, 2021. The House adopted one article of impeachment against Trump: incitement of insurrection. He is the only U.S. president (and the only holder of any federal office) to be impeached twice.

Trump’s impeachment came amid his attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election, with the article citing the Trump–Raffensperger phone call and allegations that he incited the storming of the United States Capitol one week prior.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would impeach Trump for instigating “an armed insurrection against America” if his Cabinet did not strip him of his powers and duties using the 25th Amendment. On January 11, Pelosi gave Vice President Mike Pence an ultimatum to invoke the 25th Amendment within 24 hours or the House would proceed with impeachment proceedings.

On January 12, in a letter to Pelosi, Pence made it clear that he would not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, believing that doing so would not “be in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution”. Nevertheless, a majority of the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Pence to either invoke the 25th Amendment or have the House majority impeach Trump.

On Jan. 11, 2021, an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” against the U.S. government and “lawless action at the Capitol” was introduced to the House of Representatives. The article was introduced with more than 200 co-sponsors.

Trump’s impeachment marked the fourth impeachment of a president in U.S. history. With ten Republican representatives voting support, the resolution received the most pro-impeachment votes ever from the president’s own party, and is thus the most bipartisan impeachment in history.

This was the first impeachment in which all members of the majority caucus voted unanimously for impeachment. Several Republican senators have voiced support for convicting Trump, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

If the Senate holds a trial and a two-thirds majority of senators vote to convict Trump, he would be either the first president in U.S. history to be removed from office by impeachment, or the first former president to be convicted by the Senate. Either result would trigger a second vote in which a simple majority in the Senate is needed to permanently disqualify Trump from holding public office in the United States. If conviction were to occur before Trump’s term ends, it would make Pence the 46th president with immediate effect.

Ron Troupe

Ron Troupe is the Daily Planet's top political and economic journalist. He is an award winning reporter with a more careful and meticulous approach towards his pieces. Ron prides himself on truth and integrity and is extremely intelligent.

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