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Impeachment happens when a high ranking government official is accused of some illegal activity; the outcome of which can lead to the removal of that official from his job or sentenced some other punishment. Always remember that the process of impeachment and a recall election are two different things.

A recall election is normally based on political charges, such as mismanagement, and is usually initiated by the voters. The process of impeachment, on the other hand, is pioneered by a legislative body and is usually based on a serious offense.

The Process

In the United States, the Constitution states that any official, let him/her be a member of the President's cabinet, member of the senate, or a member of the House of Representatives, qualifies for impeachment if he/she has done something wrong. The steps of impeachment begin when formal charges are leveled against the accused. These charges are examined by an independent prosecutor appointed by the House judiciary committee and the attorney general of the United States. A detailed account of the charges are presented in a report to the House of Representatives. In course of hearing, these reports are called the 'Articles of Impeachment'.

The procedure of an impeachment begins with a direct resolution or an inquiry in the case. A direct resolution simply calls for a direct vote to impeach the convicted official. An inquiry, on the other hand, calls for an inquiry to see whether the process of impeachment would be appropriate. If the supervising committee finds some potential in the impeachment resolution, it sends the articles of impeachment to the House for a vote. The House casts a vote for each article and the article that gets majority votes is sent to the Senate for final judgment. The U.S. Constitution gives the Senate entire power to decide on the process of impeachment. The Senate follows their own set of rules. A conviction requires the Senate to be confident enough to prove the convicted official guilty for apparent reasons. The appropriate punishment is decided after conviction.

Presidential Impeachment

Impeachment is the last thing any President would want. Serious discussions about impeachment have only been held on 4 occasions in the history; at the receiving end were presidents Andrew Johnson, John Tyler, Richard Nixon, and William J. Clinton (Bill Clinton) during their respective terms in the office. Explained below is the step by step process for impeachment of the President of the United States.

In the House of Representatives
  • The judiciary committee decides whether to start with the proceedings of impeachment.
  • If the impeachment process begins, the chairman of the committee proposes a resolution to begin an inquiry in the matter.
  • Based on the reports prepared during the inquiry, the committee sends a resolution to the full House stating how the impeachment is valid.
  • The House debates and the members cast their vote on each article of impeachment.
  • If any one of the articles of impeachment gets a majority vote, the President gets impeached. It is followed by a trial which is presided by the U.S. Senate.
In the Senate
  • The Senate session begins when the articles of impeachment are received.
  • The Senate develops rules and procedures for holding the trial.
  • In the trial the President is represented by his lawyers. A selected group of House members act as prosecutors. The Chief Justice of the United States presides the session with 100 senators acting as jury members.
  • The senate can also vote against the President removing him from his current office and also prohibiting him from holding any office in future.
In the Senate, a 2/3 majority vote is required to remove the official from his/her post.