Impeached Presidents of the United States

The Troubled Presidencies of Bill Clinton, Andrew Johnson, and Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump standing at a podium with a microphone.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

There are only three impeached presidents in United States history, meaning only three presidents have been charged by the House of Representatives with committing "high crimes and misdemeanors." Those presidents are Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

To date, there has not been a president removed from office using the impeachment process. Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald J. Trump were not convicted by the Senate.

There is only one other mechanism set forth in the U.S. Constitution, aside from conviction on impeachment charges, that allows for the removal of a failing president. It is outlined in the 25th Amendment, which contains provisions for the forceful removal of a president who has become physically unable to serve.

As with the impeachment process, the 25th Amendment has never been used to remove a president from office.

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Watch Now: A Brief History of Impeached Presidents

Rarely Invoked

The forceful removal of a president is not a topic that is taken lightly among voters and members of Congress, though the highly partisan atmosphere has made it more common for staunch opponents of a president to circulate rumors about impeachment.

In fact, the three most recent presidents each endured suggestions from certain members of Congress that they should be impeached: George W. Bush for his handling of the Iraq War, Barack Obama for his administration's handling of Benghazi and other scandals, and Donald Trump, whose erratic behavior grew into a major concern among some members of Congress.

The House in 2019 opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump's conversation with Ukraine's president, in which he was accused of tying military aid to political information on former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump, while admitting to asking Ukraine to look into Hunter Biden's dealings on a Ukrainian gas board, denied there was any quid pro quo. On December 18, 2019, the House voted on two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges passed largely along party lines.

Still, serious discussions of impeaching a president have occurred rarely in our nation's history because of the damage they can cause to the republic.

Until Trump's impeachment, many Americans alive today could name only one impeached president, William Jefferson Clinton. This is because of the salacious nature of the Monica Lewinsky affair and because of how quickly and thoroughly the details spread across the internet as it became commercially accessible for the first time. 

But the first impeachment came more than a century earlier, as our political leaders were trying to pull the nation together after the Civil War, long before Clinton faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998. 

List of Impeached Presidents

Here's a look at the presidents who were impeached before Trump, plus a couple who came very close to being impeached.

Andrew Johnson

Close up black and white portrait of Andrew Johnson.

Mathew Brady, Retouched by Mmxx / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act, among other crimes. The 1867 law required Senate approval before a president could remove any member of his Cabinet who had been confirmed by the upper chamber of Congress.

The House voted to impeach Johnson on February 24, 1868, three days after he dumped his secretary of war, a radical Republican named Edwin M. Stanton.

Johnson's move followed repeated clashes with the Republican Congress over how to treat the South during the Reconstruction process. The radical Republicans viewed Johnson as being too sympathetic to former slaveholders. They were outraged that he vetoed their legislation protecting the rights of freed slaves.

The Senate, however, failed to convict Johnson, even though Republicans held more than two-thirds of the seats in the upper chamber. The acquittal did not suggest the Senators were in support of the president's policies. Instead, "a sufficient minority wished to protect the office of president and preserve the constitutional balance of powers." 

Johnson was spared conviction and ousting from office by a single vote.

Bill Clinton

Close of Bill Clinton presidential portrait.

Opus Penguin / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Clinton, the nation's 42nd president, was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998. He was impeached for allegedly misleading a grand jury about his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky in the White House and then persuading others to lie about it also.

The charges against Clinton were perjury and obstruction of justice.

After a trial, the Senate acquitted Clinton of both charges on February 12, 1999.

He went on to apologize for the affair and complete his second term in office, telling a captivated and polarized American public,

Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part, for which I am solely and completely responsible.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.
John Moore/Getty Images

Donald Trump, the nation's 45th president, was impeached on December 18, 2019, when the House of Representatives approved articles of impeachment accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges stemmed from a July 25, 2019, phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. During this call, Trump allegedly offered to release $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine in return for Zelenskiy’s agreement to publicly announce an investigation of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business dealings with Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The impeachment came after a formal House inquiry found that President Trump had abused his Constitutionally granted power by soliciting a foreign government’s political assistance and interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and had obstructed Congress by preventing administration officials from complying with subpoenas demanding their testimony in the inquiry.

The final House impeachment votes, held on December 18, 2019, fell along party lines. On Article I (Abuse of Power) the vote was 230-197, with 2 Democrats opposed. On Article II (Obstruction of Congress) the vote was 229-198, with 3 Democrats opposed.

Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the articles of impeachment against President Trump were then sent to the Senate for a trial. Had a two-thirds majority of the Senators present voted to convict him, President Trump would have been removed from office and replaced by Vice President Mike Pence. In the Senate trial, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts served as the judge, with the individual Senators sworn in as jurors. Unlike the Democrat-controlled House, Republicans held a 53-47 voting majority in the Senate. However, in acting as jurors in the impeachment trial, Senators must swear that they “will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws” and so on.

The Senate impeachment trial began on January 16, 2020, and ended on February 5, 2020, with the Senate voting to acquit President Trump of both charges listed in the articles of impeachment.

Almost Impeached

Richard Nixon color photograph.

Bachrach / Getty Images

Although Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are the only presidents to have been impeached, two others came very close to being charged with crimes.

One of them, Richard M. Nixon, was certain to be impeached and convicted in 1974. Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, resigned before he was set to face prosecution over the 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters, which became known as the Watergate scandal.

The first president to come perilously close to impeachment was John Tyler, the nation's 10th president. An impeachment resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives after his veto of a bill angered lawmakers.

The impeachment initiative failed.

Why It Isn't More Common

Impeachment is a very somber process in American politics, one that has been used sparingly and with the knowledge that lawmakers enter it with an extraordinary burden of proof.

The result, the removal of an American president chosen by the citizenry, is unprecedented. Only the most serious of offenses should ever be pursued under mechanisms for impeaching a president, and they are spelled out in the Constitution of the United States as "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."