6

Assuming it is clear for which reason a president of the United States should be impeached, and there are no open questions in terms of what is needed for impeachment and a possible conviction:

Assuming the process ends in removing the president from his position:

How long does it take from the first formal step towards impeachment to conviction and removal from office?

  • 1
    There's no set rules. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… -- it varies from a few days to a whole year or more. The only certainly in the process is that Senate must hold the trial if articles of impeachment get passed in the House. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 29 at 7:00
  • @DenisdeBernardy - There is a rather technical point, in that, the House could pass the articles of impeachment then decline or delay sending those articles to the Senate. Thus leaving impeachment hanging like the Sword of Damocles into the Republican primaries. The Senate cannot act until the articles are delivered. – Rick Smith Sep 29 at 14:39
  • @RickSmith: For some reason I suspect that wouldn't fly with democrat grassroots. As in, Pelosi would end up challenged in a primary or something. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 29 at 16:00
  • 3
    question is unclear: how long from the House voting articles of impeachment until removal from office, or how long from the House opening an inquiry into impeachment until removal from office? – user4556274 Sep 29 at 17:12
  • 1
    @user4556274 I posted my last comment before seeing yours - so it's not an answer to that one, I think yours basically answers mine before seeing it. – Volker Siegel Sep 29 at 18:15
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Assuming it is clear for which reason a president of the United States should be impeached...

If it is very clear, and there is no significant controversy, then it could be done in a matter of days, perhaps a week or two at most. None of the steps in the process has a minimum duration.

Imagine a president who clearly offered to sign or veto a bill in exchange for a large sum of money, and that the evidence is clear and not subject to dispute. That is bribery, one of the two offences that are explicit grounds for impeachment.

The house judiciary committee could write up an article of impeachment based on the evidence and submit it to the house, which could pass it and send it to the senate, probably all in the same day.

The senate might need a day or so to organize the trial, but they might not. The evidence, being clear, should not take very long to present in the trial. The most uncertain element would be the time taken by the president to present a defense.

According to Wikipedia, the Clinton trial spent two days in procedural matters on January 7th and 8th. The trial remained in recess while awaiting briefs; Clinton's brief was submitted on Wednesday the 13th. The defense presented its case over three days, from the 19th to the 21st.

The Clinton case was more controversial and complicated than the hypothetical case assumed here, so we can say that the defense would probably consume less than the 8 days in Clinton's case. The rest of the time in the Clinton case was consumed by questions from the senators to the parties in the case, debate about whether to dismiss the charges and whether to call witnesses, videotaping testimony of witnesses, presenting excerpts of the testimony to the senators, and hearing closing arguments. These things could also take far less time, in some cases none at all, because of the lack of controversy.

This puts an upper limit on the duration of an "open-and-shut" case at a couple of weeks, but it could probably be done in a week or even less, especially if the Senate adopted procedural rules to limit dilatory maneuvers by the president.

7

While there is no set timeline, we can refer back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 and look at the timeline for that case.

  • Impeachment proceedings commenced: October 8, 1998
  • Impeachment vote passed: December 19, 1998
  • Start of trial: January 7, 1999
  • Closing arguments: February 8, 1999
  • Vote on conviction: February 12, 1999

The entire process took a little under four months between the start of impeachment proceedings and the Senate vote. If the Senate had voted to convict, then President Clinton would have been removed immediately.

  • 2
    The timeline between impeachment and non-conviction also took around two months in Johnson's case. – Joe C Sep 29 at 8:10
  • And the process in the HoR took ca. two months. – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Sep 29 at 18:30
  • Note that the question asks for the whole process, not just from impeachment to vote. – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Sep 29 at 18:32
  • Your answer still applies after I clarified the question a little. The point of time I referred to as "impeachment" was ambiguous - what I meant was the formal start of that. But as long as the impeachment as the first step does not take multiple month, it does not change the answer in essence, as the time is still in the same range. – Volker Siegel Sep 29 at 18:32
  • @JoeC I'll add your comment to the end of the answer, it's a useful point. – Volker Siegel Sep 29 at 18:36
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The impeachment process against Richard Nixon took 9 months, without reaching a vote on impeachment, let alone a trial in the Senate.

  • 17 May 1973: the Senate Watergate committee began hearings. These were not part of an impeachment process, but would expose material leading to impeachment.
  • 30 October 1973: The House Judiciary committee began impeachment investigations.
  • 27-30 July 1974: The House Judiciary committee votes three articles of impeachment.
  • 9 August 1974: Nixon resigned to avoid near-inevitable impeachment and trial in the Senate.
3

Since the founding of this country, there have been 19 individuals that have been impeached by the House of Representatives. This list does not include people for whom an impeachment inquiry was opened, but articles of impeachment were never passed.

  • William Blount (U.S. Senator)
    • Proceedings began July 3, 1797
    • Impeached July 7, 1797
    • Senate Trial began December 17, 1798
    • Charges Dismissed January 14, 1799
    • Total Length: 560 days
  • John Pickering (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began February 4, 1803
    • Impeached March 2, 1803
    • Senate Trial began March 3, 1803
    • Found Guilty March 12, 1804
    • Total Length: 402 days
  • Samuel Chase (Supreme Court Justice)
    • January 5, 1804
    • Impeached March 12, 1804
    • Senate Trial began December 7, 1804
    • Acquitted March 1, 1805
    • Total Length: 421 days
  • James H. Peck (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began on either December 8, 1826 or January 7, 1830 (evidence was first submitted to the Judiciary Committee in 1826, but it was reviewed several times before they ultimately went forward in 1830)
    • Impeached April 24, 1830
    • Senate Trial began April 26, 1830
    • Acquitted January 31, 1831
    • Total Length: 389 - 1,515 days (depending on when you start)
  • West H. Humphreys (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began on February 25, 1862
    • Impeached May 6, 1862
    • Senate Trial began June 9, 1862
    • Found Guilty June 26, 1862
    • Total Length: 121 days
  • Andrew Johnson (President)
    • Proceedings began on February 22, 1868
    • Impeached February 24, 1868
    • Senate Trial began February 25, 1868
    • Acquitted May 26, 1868
    • Total Length: 94 days
  • Mark H. Delahay (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began March 19, 1872
    • Impeached February 28, 1873
    • Resigned prior to trial
  • William W. Belknap (Secretary of War)
    • Proceedings began January 14, 1876
    • Impeached March 2, 1876
    • Senate Trial began March 3, 1876
    • Acquitted August 1, 1876
    • Total Length: 200 days
  • Charles Swayne (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began December 10, 1903
    • Impeached December 13, 1904
    • Senate Trial began December 14, 1904
    • Acquitted February 27, 1905
    • Total Length: 445 days
  • Robert W. Archbald (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began April 23, 1912
    • Impeached July 11, 1912
    • Senate Trial began July 13, 1912
    • Found Guilty January 13, 1913
    • Total Length: 265 days
  • George W. English (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began March 25, 1926
    • Impeached April 1, 1926
    • Senate Trial began April 23, 1926
    • Charges Dismissed December 13, 1926 (after resignation)
    • Total Length: 263 days
  • Harold Louderback (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began May 26, 1932
    • Impeached February 24, 1933
    • Senate Trial began May 15, 1933
    • Acquitted May 24, 1933
    • Total Length: 363 days
  • Halsted L. Ritter (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began May 29, 1933
    • Impeached March 2, 1936
    • Senate Trial began March 10, 1936
    • Found Guilty April 17, 1936
    • Total Length: 1,054 days
  • Harry E. Claiborne (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began May 22, 1986 (he was already in prison prior to this, but he intended to return to the bench after completing his sentence)
    • Impeached July 22, 1986
    • Senate Trial began October 7, 1986
    • Found Guilty October 9, 1986
    • Total Length: 140 days
  • Alcee L. Hastings (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began March 17, 1987
    • Impeached August 3, 1988
    • Senate Trial began October 18, 1989
    • Found Guilty October 20, 1989
    • Total Length: 948 days
  • Walter L. Nixon (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began April 25, 1989 (he was already in prison prior to this, but he intended to return to the bench after completing his sentence)
    • Impeached May 10, 1989
    • Senate Trial began November 1, 1989
    • Found Guilty November 3, 1989
    • Total Length: 192 days
  • William J. Clinton (President)
    • Proceedings began January 17, 1997 (earliest deposition referenced in the articles of impeachment)
    • Impeached December 19, 1998
    • Senate Trial began January 7, 1999
    • Acquitted February 12, 1999
    • Total Length: 756 days
  • Samuel B. Kent (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began May 12, 2009 (following his sentencing to 33 months in prison)
    • Impeached June 19, 2009
    • Senate Trial began June 24, 2009
    • Charges Dismissed July 22, 2009 (after resignation)
    • Total Length: 71 days
  • G. Thomas Porteous Jr. (Federal Judge)
    • Proceedings began June 18, 2009
    • Impeached March 11, 2010
    • Senate Trial began December 7, 2010
    • Found Guilty December 8, 2010
    • Total Length: 538 days

In general, it looks like the entire process takes anywhere from a few months to a few years to complete (average of the above is about 401 to 464 days, or a bit over a year). It's really dependent on what crimes are purported. In some of the faster cases, the individual had already been convicted in a court of law, so the impeachment was more of a formality. Some of the other cases were expedited because the House had already been aware of the potential for an impeachable offense prior to the start of an official inquiry. E.g. Andrew Johnson had been wanting to fire one of Lincoln's appointees in violation of the Tenure of Office Act, so the House was ready to start an investigation as soon as he did so.

So it ultimately really depends on how clear-cut the charges are for how long it will take for the impeachment process to complete. However, even in the clearest-cut cases (those where the individual was already in prison), the process still took about two to six months between the start of the process in the House to the end of the process in the Senate. So while it would theoretically be possible for the process to complete within a shorter period of time, it would likely be no faster than a few months in practice.

Note: I don't have enough reputation to create a post with several links, so the details on when the proceedings began are not given in the link that I included in this post. I got most of the dates from publications available from the Government Publishing Office.

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