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The impeachments of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton delivers a short statement on

President Bill Clinton delivers a short statement on the impeachment inquiry in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Dec. 11, 1998. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Only two other presidents have been impeached in American history. They are: 

Andrew Johnson

Johnson was the first president impeached, in 1868, but the Senate didn’t convict him of the 11 articles of impeachment against him. Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee who ran on the same unity ticket as Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Vice President Johnson became president and soon after clashed with some members of Congress critical of his policies. Most historians have rated Johnson one of the most incompetent and worst presidents in history. Johnson clashed with a radical band of Republicans who wanted to provide rights to freed slaves and prevent Confederate leaders from regaining political control of Southern states, policies which were blocked by Johnson. The main article of impeachment was challenging Johnson’s power to replace Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in his Cabinet; many members of Congress wanted Stanton retained. Congress accused Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which required Senate approval to remove top officeholders. The Senate led by Republicans came within one vote of convicting Johnson on that article, but ultimately failed to convict on any of the charges. Historians cite two major results of the impeachment that are relevant today. It affirmed a president’s right to replace an appointed Cabinet member and it showed Congress couldn’t impeach a president simply because it disagreed with the executive’s policy and style. Johnson wasn’t nominated to run for a full term. Congress repealed the Tenure of Office Act in 1887 and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1926.

Bill Clinton

Clinton, a Democrat, was impeached in 1998, although the trial by the GOP-led Senate acquitted him of all charges in January 1999. The principal articles of impeachment against him by a partisan vote in the Republican-led House were lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The charges were based on Clinton’s testimony in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones and Clinton’s statements in an inquiry of an affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern in the White House. The cases were investigated by independent counsel Kenneth Starr for the House Judiciary Committee. At first Starr investigated Clinton’s private real estate and business affairs, but later investigated reports of sexual affairs and attempts to buy off the silence of women through White House jobs. Clinton swore he never had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky, although he later admitted the affair and said he misled the country in his statements. After the impeachment, Clinton resumed his second term as a popular president.Republicans had lost seats in the 1998 midterm election, a rarity in congressional elections for the party opposing the sitting president. “Many viewed key Republican attackers as mean-spirited extremists willing to use a personal scandal for partisan goals,” said Professor Russell Riley of the University of Virginia’s Presidential Oral History Program.

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