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A Historical Tutorial On Impeachment, Censure

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (March 11) -- Impeachment means indictment, the act of bringing charges against the president. The House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach a president, by majority vote.

johnson

After impeachment, the president goes on trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is needed to convict him and remove him from office.

Only one president has actually been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, for defying the will of Congress by removing a cabinet official without the consent of the Senate. But President Johnson survived. The Senate failed to convict him, by a single vote.

In President Richard Nixon's case, the House of Representatives voted to authorize the Judiciary Committee to investigate the Watergate affair in February 1974. In July, the committee voted to report three articles of impeachment to the House. Ten days later, Nixon resigned. The House never had to vote on impeachment.

nixon

The Constitution says the president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." What does that mean?

Then-House minority leader Gerald Ford put it this way in 1970: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."

Can't Starr simply indict the president on criminal charges?

There is debate on this issue, but the more widely held view is that a president cannot be indicted while he is in office. It would incapacitate an entire branch of government. That's why the grand jury investigating Watergate named Nixon an unindicted co-conspirator.

lott

The president must first be impeached and removed from office. Then he can be indicted, which is why President Ford decided to pardon Nixon after he resigned.

There's another possibility, discussed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott last weekend.

"The House could say, 'Well, it's not serious enough for impeachment, but this is clearly conduct that is on the margin that we don't approve of,' and the House Judiciary Committee would report out a censure resolution and the House would vote on it," Lott said on CNN's "Evans & Novak."

When asked if the Senate would approve such a move, Lott responded, "The Senate would act on it, too, probably, yes."

jackson

Has any president ever been censured? Yes, there was one: Andrew Jackson, in 1834. The Senate censured Jackson for defying its will by removing government deposits from the Bank of the United States.

Jackson ignored the censure. He charged the Senate was violating the Constitution because the censure charged him with an impeachable offense, and only the House could bring impeachment charges against the president. Jackson's censure was expunged from the Senate record three years later.

That may be why Senator Lott was very careful to state a motion of censure would have to originate in the House of Representatives, and not in the Senate.

In Other News

Wednesday March 11, 1998

Prosecutors Interested In Clinton Testimony
Court Reinstates Carollo As Miami's Mayor
House OKs Bill To Spur African Trade
Burton: White House Is 'Keeping Secrets From Congress'
Capps Replaces Her Late Husband In Congress
Texas Voters Narrow The Field
A Historical Tutorial On Impeachment, Censure
White House Scandal At A Glance
Grand Jury Focuses On Tripp Tapes
No Little "Buddies"; First Dog To Be Fixed





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