1. Q: How long
would it take to eject a vice president from office by impeachment?
A: Theoretically it could be done
in a day. In the morning a member of
the House of Representatives could propose one or more Articles of Impeachment
and then a vote could be called. A
simple majority (50% plus one vote) is all that is needed to impeach. In the afternoon the Senate could try the
case. A two-thirds vote is needed in
the Senate to convict.
- Q: Why is it so simple?
A: Because ejecting a person from
high office is political, not judicial. The only punishment to be meted out is
removal from office.
- Q: What is an impeachable offense?
A: An impeachable offense can be as
nebulous as �He practices cronyism.� We
can call this a misdemeanor. According to the Constitution, 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.� President Gerald Ford was
correct when he said in 1970 that, �An impeachable offense is whatever the
majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at any given moment
in its history.�
- Q: Is there any good argument against
impeaching a vice president based on the notion that the person of greater
authority � the president - should take responsibility for whatever
happens in his administration?
A: No, none whatsoever.
- Q: Would the Senate have to provide
such things as reasonable time for the defense to prepare its case, and a
close scrutinizing of evidence?
A: No. The Senate is procedurally bound only by the rules it makes for
itself. The Constitution of the United
States, Article I, Section 5 (2), says, �Each House may determine the Rules of
- Q: Doesn�t the accused have
rights? Where are the wheels of
A: Justice does not come into
it. Think of it this way: If a congresswoman
has done a fabulous job for two years, but fails to win reelection, does she
have any redress? Of course not. She holds office at the pleasure of the
voters, and they indicate their pleasure every two years. A president takes office at the pleasure of
the voters, but he holds onto office at the pleasure of Congress. At any time in our history, Congress could
have ejected a president or a vice president.
- Q: Has this ever happened?
A: Congress has never impeached a
vice president, but it impeached two presidents � Andrew Johnson and William
Clinton. In both cases, the Senate
subsequently failed to convict. Many
people mistakenly believe that Richard Nixon, too, was impeached. The House Judiciary Committee had voted
three Articles of Impeachment against him, but the matter was never put to the
full House for a vote because Mr. Nixon promptly resigned.
- Q: What does an impeachment trial look
A: It is held in the Senate Chamber
and looks like a normal Senate session, except that all Senators are sworn in
as jurors. Article I, Section 3 (6) of
the Constitution says, �When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or
Affirmation.� The man of the hour may
attend or send someone to represent him.
He can plead guilty or refute the charges. Each Senator must stand at her place and pronounce her judgment
as �guilty� or �not guilty.� The
Constitution requires that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court come over to
the Senate Chamber to preside when a president is being impeached. In 1986, the Senate extended this to cover
- Q: Is it easy to eject a vice
president with whom the people are dissatisfied?
A: Yes, it�s a snap. It takes only one House member to propose
impeachment. Then, 219 out of the 435 members must agree, if all are present
and voting (fewer, if some are absent from the House or abstain from
voting). So your question boils down
to: Are there 219 House members willing to vote to impeach? The answer is �Yes, if they feel that it is
in their interest� - whatever way they may calculate that interest. Part of their calculation may be to look
ahead and see if 67 Senators would be willing to convict the vice
- Q: The number sixty-seven seems very
high. Would it ever be possible to
get that many votes?
A: It is possible to get the full
100 Senate votes if all you are asking about is �possibility�. In reality, during President Andrew
Johnson�s impeachment trial in 1867, only a single vote in the Senate spared
him from conviction (since there were fewer states then, the two-thirds
majority was smaller than 67). At
Clinton�s trial, the vote on one of his two Articles of Impeachment was
55-45. On the second one, it was 50-50.
- Q: Regarding the current vice
president, Richard Cheney, are we precluded from impeaching during the
time that his former assistant, Mr. Lewis Libby, is facing prosecution for
A: No. There is no reason to hold back - the Libby case may take
years. However, persons wishing to take
care not to prejudice Mr. Libby�s trial may wisely urge that any impeachable
offense brought forward against the vice president be of a type pertaining
specifically to him.
- Q: Could the president offer a pardon
to thwart the process of impeachment?
A: No. The Constitution puts only one restriction on the president�s
power to pardon, namely it cannot be used in cases of impeachment.
- Q: Does this mean that if by any
chance Mr. Cheney has committed a crime he can never enjoy a pardon?
A: No, it does not mean that. President Bush, or a later president, could
pardon Mr. Cheney. The president is
prevented only from interfering in the process of impeachment.
- Q: Could Mr. Cheney seek a
presidential pardon right now?
A: Yes. Indeed, for all we know, the current president may be holding a
batch of signed (and witnessed) pardons in his desk at this very moment.
- Q: Are you suggesting that President
Bush could pardon a person�s crime in advance of the person being
convicted of any crime?
A: Yes. The elder President Bush (president from 1989 to 1993) issued a
pardon a few weeks before he left office, for Caspar Weinberger, who at that
point had not been convicted of anything.
Quite possibly his motive was to avoid being subpoenaed as a witness at
Weinberger�s trial. As a witness, Bush
could be cross-examined and his own dealings in the Iran-Contra affair could
have been revealed.
- Q: Did the president dishonor the
Constitution by doing that?
A: No. He played the Constitution for all it is worth. That is what the Constitution is for. It is
not an idealistic statement; it is a scheme for allocating power and
controlling power by checks and balances. The Founding Fathers put many
restraints on the president but gave him his head when it came to pardons. They probably wanted the president to have
bargaining chips that he could use in difficult or dangerous
- Q: Strategically, from the viewpoint
of the current vice-president, what would be the best move to make if
rumors of impeachment start to swirl?
A: Presuming that Mr. Cheney would
hate to lose the position of immense power that he now occupies, his options
would be a) to hasten to correct any offending behaviors, or b) to try to get
the president ejected from office, in which case he himself would immediately
- Q: When a vice president leaves office
before his term is up, how is he replaced?
If a vice president dies, resigns, or is impeached, the president can nominate
any American-born citizen, age 35 or older.
That nomination must then be confirmed by a tmajority vote of both House of Congress before the
person can be sworn in as the new vice president.
- Q: How can a citizen start impeachment
A: By �talking it up,� by seeking
publicity for the idea, and by persuading a Congressperson to propose it. Since 2001 when President George W. Bush
took office, there have been numerous public calls for his impeachment and some
of these extend their proposal to include the impeachment of Vice President
Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales. One proposal that
names all of those persons is sponsored by Ramsey Clark, who was Attorney
General in the 1960s. So far, 607,000
citizens have signed his petition.
Number 16 in Clark�s list of complaints sounds particularly relevant to
the vice president, namely �refusal to provide information and records [needed
for] legislative oversight of executive functions.�
- Q: Is Mr. Cheney currently threatened with any prosecutions?
A: The case of Rodriguez v. Bush, names Bush, Cheney, and several others as
defendants in a RICO suit. This is not
a criminal prosecution, but is a civil suit that asks for criminal penalties,
if appropriate. �RICO� stands for
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. A judge recently transferred this case to the U.S. District Court
for the Southern District of New York because it accuses the government of
crimes related to September 11th and the U.S. Attorney has decided
to coordinate numerous September 11th cases at that court. The mainstream media never mentions the Rodriguez v. Bush case, but it is
available on the Internet.
P.O. Box 4307, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, USA, is a political scientist. She can be emailed as �mary� at her website marymaxwell.us.
She hereby permits anyone to distribute this article as long as it is unaltered
and credits the author.