In the United States the President of the United States may involuntarily be removed from office through impeachment.

This is outlined in Article 2 of the United States Constitution

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.

This is to protect the president from unwonted prosecution and to allow for he or she to execute the office with minimal distraction or fear that their actions will be personally litigated at every turn. The president is still liable in federal court once their term of presidency is over but not during.

That said...is the prohibition against removing the president only extended to those crimes committed while in office or would they also include crimes committed in an effort to gain the presidency?

Edit: As a point of clarification I know the 25th amendment also provides for the involuntary removal of the president if he/she is deemed unable to execute the office. I am specifically looking for removal due to crimes committed prior to becoming president and the impeachment process.

Edit 2: As clarification I am looking for instances, case law, or references that would indicate the Congress can bring Articles of Impeachment for crimes committed prior to the individual actually taking office.

This article from http://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Impeachment/ outlines the previous uses in the federal government but each one was used based on infractions taken by the individual while in office

The Use of Impeachment

The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times but less than a third have led to full impeachments. Just eight—all federal judges—have been convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Outside of the 15 federal judges impeached by the House, two Presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton in 1998), a cabinet secretary (William Belknap in 1876), and a U.S. Senator (William Blount of North Carolina in 1797) have also been impeached.

Blount’s impeachment trial—the first ever conducted—established the principle that Members of Congress and Senators were not “Civil Officers” under the Constitution, and accordingly, they could only be removed from office by a two-thirds vote for expulsion by their respective chambers. Blount, who had been accused of instigating an insurrection of American Indians to further British interests in Florida, was not convicted, but the Senate did expel him. Other impeachments have featured judges taking the bench when drunk or profiting from their position. The trial of President Johnson, however, focused on whether the President could remove cabinet officers without obtaining Congress’s approval. Johnson’s acquittal firmly set the precedent—debated from the beginning of the nation—that the President may remove appointees even if they required Senate confirmation to hold office.

  • @user4012 - I believe the associated question/answer deal with whether the president can be impeached for crimes committed prior to the oath of office. I haven't found literature specifying one way or the other.
    – VerasVitas
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 19:27
  • My guess - and it's only a guess - is that such a route may open up if serious and substantial irregularities were uncovered in the electoral process due to directly or indirectly to him. Commented May 3, 2018 at 20:13
  • @VerasVitas - associated answer is very direct - the president can be impeached for whatever (and ONLY whatever) the sitting congresscritters decide is an impeachable offense based on their internal political calculations. That's the answer for ANY question in the form of "can the President be impeached for XYZ".
    – user4012
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 21:58

1 Answer 1


Impeachment isn't a matter of justice, but is political in nature. Thus, an "Impeachable Offense" is anything that Congress says is an impeachable offense. Though the "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" is something that guides Congress as to when they should do it. This also means that the only real punishments impeachment can carry is removal from office and/or a ban on running for elected office in Federal Government (not sure on state level). The crime will be enforced by the proper prosecution authorities, depending on jurisdiction. A President could be impeached for a violation of a crime and be found not guilty at the criminal trial for the same offense. Conversely, a President can be found guilty of a crime by trial, but not impeached... maybe... it's a debate for another time...

  • I too found literature on indictment versus impeachment but understand that the implication and historical application of impeachment deal with crimes committed while in office. I am looking for confirmation as to whether that is codified or simply an "unwritten rule". The wording in the Constitution is relatively vague on that topic and I haven't yet found information that would determine that one way or the other
    – VerasVitas
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 19:29
  • 6
    The nature of that answer depends on the politics of the people who have to make that decision. SCOTUS has explicitly said that this is Congress's job and not their own job (it's a matter of politics. They deal with matters of law) so if congress deems it to be the rule, it is until they deem it to not be the rule. Each member of congress has to ask the question "Can I impeach the President on this and expect to win my next election?"
    – hszmv
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 19:44
  • Here's a good YouTube video on what an "Impeachable Offense" is: youtube.com/watch?v=U9xL28aW2F4
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 20:39
  • 1
    This gets back to the Clinton situation: technically, he was guilty of perjury, and in fact was disbarred after he left office as a result of the perjury. However, congress wisely decided that it wasn't worth disrupting the country over, as the transgression involved personal escapades that really didn't affect the nation one way or another.
    – tj1000
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 4:49
  • I understand that the wording in the constitution is ambiguous and as such it seems there is no precedence for the situation in the question. As such then as has been noted in this answer and in the comments Congress COULD do it if they chose because there simply is nothing to stop them from doing so in the Constitution or body of law.
    – VerasVitas
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 16:05

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