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The possibility of presidential impeachment has been a hot topic since President Donald Trump took office. For more than a year, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia – and whether the president has subsequently looked to obstruct that probe. Trump has denied any collusion and obstruction.
In the history of U.S. politics, two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but both were acquitted in the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned just short of what was all but guaranteed to be impeachment. So a president leaving the White House, not of his own volition, has actually never happened.
Here’s a look at what it would take to bring down America’s top politician.
Impeachment is basically a trial of any civil official, including the president, without a judge, a jury or a prosecutor. The judicial branch has nothing to do with it. It all happens on Capitol Hill.
The U.S. Constitution may just be four-pages long, but Article II Section 4 of that critical document spells out the rules. There are three big impeachable offenses: treason and bribery are pretty clear cut, but "high crimes and misdemeanors" leaves room for argument, which leaves room for politics.
It’s up to the House of Representatives to accuse the president of one of those offenses. Think of the House like a prosecutor. It’s the only body that has the power to bring charges against the president. Any member of the House can propose charges; all that’s needed is a simple majority vote.
If it’s voted through, the president is impeached. But this doesn’t mean he’s been convicted. For that to happen, it’s kicked over to the Senate.
Here, the Senate acts as the judge and jury. It’ll hear evidence, and if two-thirds vote to convict, the president is out the door.
But let’s say a president does face a conviction and is out of a job. He could still yet face another kind of conviction entirely: criminal. POTUS is on the hook for criminal actions before, during, or after his or her time in the oval office.