What happened when US presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton faced impeachment, and how it compares to today

Time Life Pictures/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesFormer President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998.

  • On December 18, President Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives.
  • His Senate trial formally began on Thursday when the House prosecutors presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
  • Only three US presidents have faced impeachment – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were both impeached, while Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached in 1974.
  • No president has ever been convicted.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump became the third president in history to be impeached, and his Senate trial formally began on Thursday.

For the last few months, Congress investigated whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son.

On December 13, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance two impeachment articles against Trump – one for abusing his office, and the other for obstructing Congress. On December 18, he was impeached on both articles.

Impeachment is a power Congress has to remove presidents or other federal officials from office if enough lawmakers find that they have committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

First there’s the investigation, then the House of Representatives votes on whether to impeach and charge them with any crimes, and if a majority votes in favour, then a Senate trial determines whether they’re guilty and the penalty.

Three other presidents have faced impeachment proceedings.

In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached for breaching the Tenure of Office Act, but the Senate narrowly acquitted him by one vote. In 1974, Richard Nixon faced an impeachment inquiry, but he quit before he could be impeached. In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached, but he was acquitted by the Senate.

Only 11 days had passed after a whistleblower complaint before Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry, Axios reported. For Nixon, it took 599 days from the Watergate break-in to an inquiry, while for Clinton it took 260 days from the first news report of an affair to an inquiry.

Here’s how the process went for the three former presidents, and what’s happened so far for Trump.

Former President Andrew Johnson was the first sitting president to ever face impeachment proceedings.

Library of CongressAndrew Johnson.

Source: Senate

It all began when he removed his Secretary of War Edward Stanton from office in 1867, which breached the Tenure of Office Act.

The law meant he couldn’t fire any important officials without first getting Senate’s permission. At first, he’d suspended Stanton and replaced him, but when Congress intervened and reinstated Stanton, Johnson fired him on February 21, 1868.

Three days later, on February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives impeached Johnson by a vote of 126-47.

Corbis / GettyThe House of Representatives’ impeachment committee of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The House said he’d violated the law, and disgraced the United States’ Congress.

From March to May 1868, over 11 weeks, the Senate tried Johnson’s case, and finally voted to acquit him. The vote was 35 guilty to 19 not guilty.

Wikimedia CommonsAndrew Johnson.

One more guilty vote would have met the required two-thirds that’s necessary for a conviction.

Over 100 years later, the two-year crisis that would lead to Nixon’s resignation began on June 17, 1972, when five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate hotel in D.C.

Getty ImagesRichard Nixon.

They were caught trying to bug the building. A year later, on January 8, 1973, the trial for Watergate began. By the end of April, two senior White House officials and the attorney general had resigned over the controversy. The White House counsel was fired.

In July, Nixon refused to hand over taped phone calls, which were thought to connect Nixon to the burglary and its cover-up. They are known as the “Nixon tapes.”

Nixon cited executive privilege as the reason for not handing them over to Congress (even under subpoena), and the Supreme Court later unanimously ruled that he had to.

In October, more controversy followed, including several high White House officials resigning rather than following Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was leading the investigation into misconduct by Nixon.

Bettmann / GettyArchibald Cox (centre) is sworn in as Special Watergate Prosecutor.

This event was known as the “Saturday night massacre.” A month after it, Nixon gave his famous line: “I am not a crook.”

On May 9, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment proceedings against Nixon. The House of Representatives authorised the proceedings with an overwhelming vote of 410-4.

Charles Tasnadi/APRichard Nixon.

Sources: PBS, Los Angeles Times

By July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee found Nixon had obstructed justice, misused his power, and was in contempt of Congress. The three charges were sent to the floor for a full House vote.

Bettmann / GettyNewspaper headlines being read by tourists in front of the White House tell of history in the making.

Source: PBS

But before the house could vote to impeach Nixon, he resigned on August 8, 1974. He is the only president to ever resign.

Keystone / Hulton Archive / GettyRichard Nixon gives the thumbs up as he addresses the White House staff upon his resignation.

If he had been impeached, he would have been tried in the Senate and he could have been convicted.

President Bill Clinton is the most recent president to face impeachment proceedings. From early 1994, he was dealing with scandals, beginning with a financial investigation known as “Whitewater.”


Source: The Guardian

That same year, Paula Jones sued him, accusing the president of sexual harassment.

Scott Olson/Getty ImagesPaula Jones at a debate between then-presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Clinton argued he had presidential immunity from civil cases, but in 1997, the Supreme Court rejected his argument.

In January 1998, during Jones’ case, Clinton denied under oath that he’d ever had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The White House/APPresident Clinton and Monica Lewinsky at the White House.

Source: The Guardian

But news of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky got out.

AP Photo/Nick UtFormer White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

In July 1998, Clinton testified over the allegations that he’d committed perjury by lying about his affair with Lewinsky. And by August, he’d admitted to having an affair with Lewinsky.

Lewinsky had also recorded conversations of her talking about the affair, and the transcripts of the conversation went public in October 1998.

On October 8, 1998, just days after the tapes were released, the House of Representatives voted for impeachment proceedings to begin against Clinton.

Jeffrey Markowitz/Getty ImagesBill Clinton working late in the Oval Office on March 18, 1993.

In a report released in September by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, there were 11 grounds for impeachment.

On December 11, 1998, the House approved three articles of impeachment along party lines — that Clinton had lied to a grand jury, he had committed perjury by denying his relationship with Lewinsky, and he had obstructed justice.

Diana Walker / The LIFE Images Collection / GettyPres. Bill Clinton at press conference.

The next day, a fourth article was approved, which accused Clinton of abusing his power.

On December 19, 1998, the House impeached Clinton for two of the articles — perjury and obstructing justice. The votes were 228-206, and 221-212, also largely along party lines.

J. Scott Applewhite/APBill Clinton.

Despite being impeached, Clinton refused to step down.

Clinton was tried by the Senate and acquitted on February 12, 1999.

His perjury charge had a vote of 55 not guilty to 45 guilty, and his obstruction of justice charge was 50 not guilty to 50 guilty. They didn’t meet the two-thirds majority necessary to convict.

Clinton still had two years of his second term in office left. He spent it winning a 79-day war in Kosovo, normalizing US trade relations with China and Vietnam, and presiding over a very strong economy.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sources: Miller Centre, Clinton White House

Now President Donald Trump is the fourth president to face a formal impeachment investigation.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

A whistleblower complaint about a July 25 phone call sparked the House investigation.

According to a memo Trump released of the call, he repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter over baseless allegations of corruption. Trump also asked his Ukrainian counterpart to look into a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election.

The Democrats’ investigation and officials’ testimonies about Trump were behind closed doors in the preliminary stages.

Patrick Semansky / APA sign marks a door to a secure area behind Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the three House committee chairmen who led the inquiry, said they kept it behind closed doors so witnesses didn’t coordinate their testimonies.

The Wall Street Journal’s Natalie Andrews pointed out that the special counsels who investigated Nixon and Clinton both used grand juries in their probes, which does everything behind closed doors.

The investigators later turned their findings over to Congress to use in its impeachment inquiries into those presidents.

On November 13, the hearings went public, giving the nation a direct look at the key figures, the process, and the allegations. Multiple officials testified that there was quid pro quo between Trump and Ukraine.

Andrew Harnik/APFormer White House national security aide Fiona Hill testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, during a public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump’s efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents.

A cascade of witness testimony since Congress launched its impeachment inquiry revealed that the Trump-Zelensky phone call was just one data point in a months-long pressure campaign spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, on behalf of the president.

Giuliani also enlisted other government officials in his efforts, including Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt Volker, then the US special envoy in Ukraine.

Following the hearings, the House Intelligence Committee released a draft inquiry report on December 3. It found that Trump had conditioned “a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine on a public announcement of investigations beneficial to his reelection campaign.”

Patrick Semansky / APPresident Donald Trump

Sources: Business Insider, BBC

On December 4, the House Judiciary Committee took over. The committee was in charge of drafting the impeachment articles and laying out the case for and against impeachment. It was a highly charged and politicized affair.

ReutersHouse Judiciary Committee debates articles of impeachment against President Trump.

Sources: Business Insider, Business Insider

On December 10, House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump, both relating to Ukraine. One charged him with abuse of power and the other charged him with obstructing Congress. The vote was divided by parties — all 23 Democrats voted for it, and all 17 Republicans voted against.

ReutersHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the USMCA trade agreement on Capitol Hill in Washington

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers were impeaching Trump to “honour our oath of office.”

On December 18, the full House of Representatives impeached Trump. Both articles of impeachment passed, making him the third president in US history to be impeached.

Jonathan Ernst/ReutersPresident Donald Trump hosts a working luncheon with permanent representatives of the United Nations Security Council in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., December 5, 2019.

The abuse of power article passed with a vote of 230-197, while the obstruction of Congress article passed 229-198.

Both were largely along party lines.

Two Democrats – Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota – voted against the first article of impeachment. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, voted “present.”

Amash voted in favour of the second article, while Van Drew and Peterson voted against it, as did Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine. Gabbard voted “present” again.

On January 15, the full House voted to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. There was a weeks-long delay, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate into putting on a fair trial and calling new witnesses.

REUTERS/Leah MillisU.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signs the two articles of impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump before sending them over to the U.S. Senate during an engrossment ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2020.

Source: Business Insider

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expected the trial to begin on January 21. He said the trial would mirror Clinton’s, and witnesses would be considered at the trial’s end.

Associated PressSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sets the terms of the Senate trial.

Sources: Politico, Business Insider, Politico

The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. It will take 67 votes for Trump to be convicted in a two-thirds majority. It’s widely expected that he’ll be acquitted — just like the presidents before him.

JONATHAN ERNST/ReutersHouse impeachment managers arrive for the procedural start of the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump in the US Capitol.

Source: Business Insider

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