Columbia Law School professor explains exactly how impeachment works, and what it takes for a president to be impeached

The search term “Trump impeachment” has trended on Google on and off since Donald Trump’s inauguration, and it resurfaced again after the president’s Charlottesville reaction.

Trump impeachment trendingGoogle Trends‘Trump Impeachment’ is trending again on Google following Charlottesville. Here’s what it actually takes for a president to get impeached.

What is the impeachment process, and what does a president have to do to get impeached? Columbia Law School’s professor of legislation Richard Briffault stopped by the Business Insider newsroom to spell out exactly how the impeachment process works and what the odds are an impeachment could happen.


Well, the Constitution provides that the president can be impeached for treason, bribery, and what it calls other high crimes and misdemeanours.

The Constitution doesn’t actually define what “other high crimes and misdemeanours” means. The historical sense is that it basically means, kind of, serious political crimes, sort of crimes against the state, crimes that involve abuse of office, abuse of power, abuse of trust.

The combination of the scholarly learning and of the handful of impeachments that we’ve had, suggest that the behaviour doesn’t actually have to be a crime. We have had some people, mostly judges, who’ve been impeached for behaviour which wasn’t technically a crime, and not all crimes would be the basis for impeachment.

If somebody is convicted of speeding or jaywalking, or maybe even on drunk driving, that might not be considered serious enough to justify impeachment.

The process would begin in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives acts like a grand jury. It has the sole power to start an impeachment. They can do that by a simple majority vote.

They would, in effect, adopt articles of impeachment. They would adopt some number of relatively specific charges that they say is the basis that would justify forcing a president or a judge to forfeit their office.

That would then proceed to the Senate. The impeachment is actually what the House of Representatives does. The conviction is by, would be by the Senate. And the Senate acts as the court, to try the impeachment.

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