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Articles of Impeachment
Formal written allegations of the causes that warrant the criminal trial of a public official before a quasi-political court.
In cases of impeachment, involving the president, vice president, or other federal officers, the House of Representatives prepares the articles of impeachment, since it is endowed with the "sole Power of Impeachment," under Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the Constitution. The articles are sent to the Senate, which has the exclusive power to "try all Impeachments" by virtue of Article I, Section 3, Clause 6.
The use of articles of impeachment against state officials is governed by state constitutions and statutes.
Articles of impeachment are analogous to an indictment that initiates criminal prosecutions of private persons.
Articles of Impeachment and the U.S. Presidency
Articles of impeachment have been drafted against three U.S presidents, Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and William Jefferson Clinton. Nixon resigned before the full House could vote to approve the articles of impeachment prepared by the judiciary committee, while Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted during Senate trials that were bitterly divided along party lines.
On February 24, 1868, the U.S House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. A week later the House approved 11 articles of impeachment, accusing the president of obstruction of justice, thwarting duly enacted federal laws, improvidently removing military governors from the southern states, and attempting to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt, and reproach the congress of the united states. Most historians consider all of the charges against Johnson to have been politically motivated, as the House of Representatives was controlled by radical Republicans who favored Reconstruction Era legislation that Johnson opposed.
In August 1867, Johnson tried to remove the last staunch Reconstructionist from his cabinet by dismissing Secretary of War edwin stanton and replacing him with General Ulysses S. Grant. The Senate refused to approve the dismissal, so Johnson replaced Stanton with another general. One article of impeachment charged that Stanton's dismissal violated the tenure of office act, which prohibited the president from dismissing cabinet members without the Senate's approval.
Johnson's trial in the Senate commenced March 13, 1868, and lasted until May 26, 1868. Supreme Court Justice salmon chase presided. The Senate consisted of 45 Republicans and only nine Democrats. Thirty-six votes were required for conviction, so a party-line vote would easily have removed Johnson. After voting on the first three articles of impeachment and failing to convict by a single vote on each of them (7 Republicans sided with 12 Democrats), the Senate adjourned without considering the other eight articles.
On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. The articles charged the president with obstruction of justice in trying to cover up the burglary of Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., abuse of power for ordering the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to audit the taxes of political adversaries, and refusal to obey a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee. A week later Nixon complied with a Supreme Court order compelling him to release the transcripts of three tape-recorded conversations of June 23, 1972, which demonstrated his involvement in, and knowledge of, the Watergate cover-up.
For example, the transcript of June 23, 1972, tape showed H. R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff, telling Nixon that campaign money had financed the Watergate burglary and Nixon telling Haldeman to use the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to curb a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigation of the money trail. This transcript was widely referred to as the "the smoking gun" tape because some Republicans had said they would not support impeachment until they found evidence of Nixon holding a "smoking gun" of guilt in his hand. With the public turning against Nixon and his approval rating hovering around twenty-five percent, Republican congressional leaders and some of the president's own aides put him under enormous pressure to resign. Three days after the tapes were released to the public, on August 8, 1974, President Nixon resigned. Nixon's resignation ended the impeachment inquiry, and following his resignation, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for all crimes he may have committed as the nation's chief executive.
On December 19, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Democratic president Clinton, accusing the president of having committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice to conceal his relationship with former White-House intern Monica Lewinsky. The impeachment trial before the Senate began on January 7, 1999, and ended on February 12,1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided.
Like the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, the Clinton impeachment trial was also bitterly divided along party lines. The Senate was comprised of 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. However, several moderate Republicans privately questioned the propriety of impeaching a president whose job-approval ratings were at approximately 70 percent during a period when the stock market was experiencing strong growth. Enough Republicans eventually joined all 45 Democrats in voting to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment, neither article being supported by even a majority of votes, far short of the 67 votes required to convict.
Collier, Charles W., and Christopher Slobogin. 1999. "Terms of Endearment and Articles of Impeachment." Florida Law Review 51 (September).
Henshaw, Jaime L. 2001. "Falling Out of Love with America: The Clinton Impeachment and the Madisonian Constitution." Maryland Law Review 60 (winter).