The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article II, Section 4: “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.” It is this provision in the Constitution that gives the U.S. House of Representatives the power and authority to bring impeachment charges against the occupants of the stated offices and gives the U.S. Senate the right to convict and remove them from office for any of the stated offenses. Please note that “impeachment” takes place in the House and “conviction” and removal from office takes place in the Senate.
“Note that the offenses for which officials of the government can be impeached are deliberately left very broad. Treason and bribery were two of the most reprehensible offenses at the time of the Convention and both had played their part in creating serious military difficulties during the Revolutionary War. These two offenses were therefore specifically mentioned, but the use of the words `high crimes and misdemeanors’ remained sufficiently broad to embrace practically any serious behavior while in office.
“A member of Congress is not a civil officer within the meaning of this section. However, either House may conduct an investigation and remove any member who is guilty of offensive conduct.
“If an officer resigns from office he is still subject to impeachment for acts committed while in office if the members of the House of Representatives elect to do so. Furthermore, if a person is impeached and subsequently found guilty before the Senate, he not only suffers loss of his particular office but he may subsequently be prosecuted for any crimes he may have committed in connection with the charges brought up during the impeachment proceedings.” (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 563.)
“Impeachment is the constitutionally specified means by which an official of the executive or judicial branch may be removed from office for misconduct. There has been considerable controversy about what constitutes an impeachable offense. At the Constitutional Convention, the delegates early on voted for `mal-practice and neglect of duty’ as grounds for impeachment, but the Committee of Detail narrowed the basis to treason, bribery, and corruption, then deleting the last point. George Mason, who wanted the grounds much broader and similar to the earlier formulation, suggested `maladministration,’ but James Madison pointed out that this would destroy the President’s independence and make him dependent on the Senate. Mason then suggested `high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ which the Convention accepted.
“Because `high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ was a term of art used in English impeachments, a plausible reading supported by many scholars is that the grounds for impeachment can be not only the defined crimes of treason and bribery, but also other criminal or even noncriminal behavior amounting to a serious dereliction of duty. That interpretation is disputed, but it is agreed by virtually all that the impeachment remedy was to be used in only the most extreme situations, a position confirmed by the relatively few instances in which Congress has used the device.” (See Stephen B. Presser in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, pp. 225-226.)