Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice

Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting    ~    Community Matters
P.O. Box 97803    ~    Pittsburgh, PA  15227   ~    412-310-4886    ~
Copyright Patricia A. O'Malley    ~    All rights reserved
Established 1993

Impeachment 101:  The Basics
Breaking Down the Rhetoric
​December 5, 2019


For only the fourth time in America’s 230-year history, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives has called for the impeachment of our president.  While the media deliver the play-by-play, commentary, and analysis, these are the nuts and bolts that they won’t explain to you.


  • On February 24, 1868, the House impeached President Andrew Johnson for relatively minor crimes, including violating the Tenure of Office Act.  The Senate declined to convict him and he finished his term in March 1869.

  • On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice, violating the constitutional rights of citizens, and abuse of power.    Nixon resigned on August 9, before the full House had a chance to vote on the Articles. 
    While Nixon would probably have been impeached and convicted, he was not.

  • On December 19, 1998, the House adopted impeachment articles against President William Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice.  On February 12, 1999, the Senate declined to convict him and he finished his term of office on January 20, 2001.

  • On December 5, 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the House to draft and adopt impeachment articles against Donald Trump.  The specific charges are to be determined, but could include bribery, obstruction of justice, violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and abuse of power.  He will not be charged with treason because he hasn't committed treason.  At this writing, the House vote is scheduled for December 19.

These are the definitions of some terms that the media and politicians use with which most Americans are unfamiliar. 

Abuse of Power
Using the power and privileges of one’s position for personal gain.

An official representative from one nation or organization to another.

Money, valuables, or an act given, or promised, in order to influence a person in a position of trust.

Burisma Holdings Limited is a holding company for a group of energy exploration and production companies. It is based in Kyiv, Ukraine, but registered in Limassol, Cyprus.  Burisma Holdings has operated in the Ukrainian natural gas market since 2002.  It is one of the largest private natural gas producers in Ukraine.  (Wikipedia)

The legislative (law-making) branch of the United States government. It consists of BOTH the House of Representatives AND the Senate.  There is no such thing as “Congress and the Senate”.

Congressional Committee
A small, formal group of legislators – in the House or the Senate – which reviews potential legislation and finances, and conducts oversight of government agencies, within its subject area. 
The Constitution gives each chamber of Congress – the House and the Senate – the power to make its own rules of procedure.
Congress has chosen to do most of its work through committees.

Committee Chair
The committee member from the majority party who has the most seniority. 
The chair controls the committee’s work.

Refusal to follow lawful, proper instructions from a court or from Congress.

Due Process
The rights and procedures guaranteed to a criminal defendant, and to the general public, by the Constitution and its laws.  No criminal suspect has due process rights until s/he is arrested and charged with a crime.  Due process rights are defined in amendments four, five, and six of the Constitution.

Emoluments Clause
A clause in the Constitution which prohibits any person holding any government office from accepting any “present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without the consent of Congress. (Article I. Section 9. Clause 8.)

High Crimes and Misdemeanors
This isn’t a thing.  It’s two things. 

There are high crimes, which are major, serious crimes – felonies – and misdemeanors – smaller, less serious crimes. 

To accuse a person of a crime, or to cast doubt upon someone, such as a witness.

To officially charge a person in a formal criminal procedure.

Obstruction of Justice
Deliberately interfering with the process of justice and law by influencing, threatening, harming, or preventing a witness, potential witness, juror, or judicial or legal officer from doing her/his job, or by giving false information in or otherwise impeding an investigation or legal process. 

Quid pro quo
A Latin phrase meaning “this for that”.  It means that two parties agree to trade items, information, or acts so that the trade benefits both of them.  It is not necessarily illegal.  Every contract contains a quid pro quo, meaning that one party gives something, usually money, in exchange for a product or service from the other party.   A quid pro quo is illegal when the components of the deal are illegal.

The plural is not “quid pro quos”.  It’s QUIDS pro quo.
It is not necessary for a party to say the phrase quid pro quo for the event to exist.

Ranking Member
The member of a congressional committee from the minority party with the most seniority. 
There is only one ranking member on each committee.

A formal instruction from a court or other lawful body for a person to appear in a court or meeting to give testimony.

Subpoena Duces Tecum
A formal order for a person to appear and to bring documents or other items for the court’s examination.


  • Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution. 

  • Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.  No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.  (Article III. Section 3)

  • The US Supreme Court has defined an enemy as a nation with which we are in an active, declared war.

A country in eastern Europe, between Poland, Russia, and the Black Sea.  It was formerly part of the Soviet Union and is currently in a dispute with Russia over an area called Crimea.


  • Only the president, vice president, and appointed high-ranking public officials can be impeached.

  • Elected members of Congress can not be impeached.  Career bureaucrats can be fired, but not impeached.

  • Impeachment means accusing a public official with an offense. 

  • Impeachment does not mean that a public official loses her/his job. 

  • The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
    (US Constitution. Article II. Section 4.)

Can’t Indict a Sitting President
This is a lie.  It is, and has always been, possible and legal to indict any sitting president for any crime. 

The current US Department of Justice has announced that it will refuse to do so under any circumstances.

A person or organization found to be guilty of whatever crime(s) with which they have been duly charged and tried.

If Trump Is Convicted and Refuses to Leave
Once a president is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, s/he is fired and expelled from office.

Then the vice president takes the oath of office and becomes president.  We only have one president at a time.  It’s unlikely, but if Donald Trump did refuse to leave the White House, the Secret Service, backed up by the US Marshals and the Capital Police, would physically remove him from the premises.

Can Mike Pence Pardon Donald Trump?
The president has the … Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. (US Constitution. Article II. Section 2. Clause 1.)

So Pence could not pardon Trump for the actual impeachment conviction, but could pardon him for the underlying crimes, so that he couldn’t be tried for them in a regular criminal court. 

What if Donald Trump and Mike Pence are Both Impeached and Convicted?
If Trump and Pence are both impeached and convicted, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives – Nancy Pelosi – would become president.  She would nominate a new vice president, to be confirmed by both chambers of Congress, just as Gerald Ford did when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.

If Trump is impeached, convicted, and expelled, would Hillary Clinton become president?
.  The Constitution specifically states that the vice president will become president In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office. 

(Article II. Section 1. Clause 6.)

Neither the Constitution nor federal laws outline the impeachment process.

Since impeachments are rare, Congress has never legislated it.  They rely on their own rules, which can change easily.  In this instance, they’re relying primarily on a process adopted in 2015 by the Republican-majority House led by Speaker John Boehner.  And the Republicans are whining that “It’s not fair!”

So far, the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees have held hearings to determine whether the House should take further steps.  Trump and his lawyers have been whining that the House is “violating his due process rights”.  However, as in any criminal investigation, the suspect doesn’t have “due process rights” unless and until s/he is formally arrested and charged with crimes.

Speaker Pelosi has invited Trump to testify to the committees, but he has refused. 

He will have due process rights to question witnesses, call witnesses in his behalf, and testify himself during the Senate trial.

Every media outlet will surely cover the House impeachment debate and vote, and the Senate trial and its vote in excruciating detail.  If you can’t watch all of it, I’m sure there will be several good summaries available.  C-SPAN always has good material available.  This is a historic event.  Please try to follow as much as you can.

Every American adult should know these things. 
Your high school didn’t bother to teach you this stuff because they don’t want you to know it.
Political ignorance breeds political impotence.  That’s what they want.

On December 18, a national coalition of progressive organizations will sponsor rallies and demonstrations in nearly a hundred American cities demanding that Congress IMPEACH AND REMOVE Trump from office.
You can find most of them on the Facebook Events list.
Please consider joining one.

Protests and Demonstrations Do Bring Change.

Read the Constitution
US House of Representatives
US Senate
House Rules of Impeachment
Committees Hold the Real Power in Congress
Impeachment:  Myths, Facts, and History
Treason:  Myths and Facts
C-SPAN:  Full impeachment coverage
Andrew Johnson Impeachment
Richard Nixon Impeachment
William Clinton Articles of Impeachment
Impeach and Remove Demonstrations

Contact Pat for email notice of all new Community Matters articles.