The U.S Constitution, Article II, section 4, states that “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.”
The Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to impeach an official, and the Senate the sole court. The power of impeachment is limited to removal from office but also provides for a removed officer to be disqualified from holding future offices.
Impeachment comes from British constitution history. Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment strictly involves the “misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” The founders, fearing the potential for abuse of executive power, considered impeachment so important that they made it part of the U.S. Constitution even before they defined the contours of the presidency.
During the Federal Constitutional Convention, the framers addressed whether even to include impeachment trials in the Constitution, the venue and process for such trials, what crimes should warrant impeachment, and the likelihood of conviction.
Delegates to the Convention also remained undecided on the venue for impeachment trials. Ultimately, the founders decided that during presidential impeachment trials, the House would manage the prosecution, while the Chief Justice would preside over the Senate during the trial.
The founders also addressed what crimes constituted grounds for impeachment. Treason and bribery were obvious choices. The term “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was a technical term—again borrowed from British legal practice—that denoted crimes by public officials against the government.
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 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.
U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Historian and Office of Art and Archives