"Impeach (Ex) President Bush"?

I’ve only seen calls for an impeachment of President George W. Bush after he left office from a couple of, well, exremists. But I got to wondering, what if anything would be the effect?

Let us suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that sufficient clear-cut evidence comes to light to convince the Orrin Hatches (i.e., strong sane conservative Republicans) of the House and Senate that Mr. Bush fils is guilty of such high crimes and misdemeanors as would inevitably lead to his impeachment, and conviction by the Senate, if he were still in office.

  1. Would there be anything to gain by conducting an impeachment of a man who has left office? (I’m aware of the Constitutional limitation on the effects of impeachment – I’m wondering if it would be a necesary preliminary to criminal charges, etc.)

  2. What if anything would be the actual effect of such an impeachment?

Remember that this is a hypothetical question using former President Bush as an example, not a political attack on him. It presupposes evidence coming to light sufficient to convince people who would now defend him that he is guilty of impeachment-level criminal acts – which obviously hasn’t happened, or they would not still be defending him. While I could have invented an example, I thought using a real-world example with hypothetical assumptions added on would make the question a bit easier to work with.

To make the example less partisan, you could substitute “President Clinton or President George W. Bush” for “President George W. Bush”, and substitute “a large group of the opposing party in Congress” for “the Orrin Hatches (i.e., strong sane conservative Republicans)”. The legal principles would remain the same.

I’m pretty sure you can only impeach someone in office. So, the whole thing process would have no effect.

Art. I, Sec. 3, cl. 7 of the U.S. Constitution provides

*Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of Honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law. *

You can’t impeach (which, remember, is just the accusation by the House of Representatives; trial is by the Senate) someone who’s no longer in office, but you may criminally prosecute them. Then you get into pretrial arguments over whether or not the former President’s acts were privileged or whether or not he is immune from prosecution.

This gets to the heart of what I was wondering. Obviously Mr. Bush (or Mr. Clinton, to use Giles’s suggestion) would not be materially affected by impeachment and conviction – they are already ineligible to serve as President again under the 22nd Amendment, and presumably would not be materially affected by disqualification if the Senate so judged. But would it:

A. Remove their prerogatives as ex-Presidents (10 years Secret Service, pension, etc.)?

B. Function to say that their conduct was not privileged or immune in subsequent criminal trials?

In otgher words, I’m clear that the principal effect – removing someone from office – is moot on someone who has already left office. But would adjunct effects of a successful imeachment-and-conviction-by-the-Senate be such as to make it worthwhile to do it anyway?

The Constitution provides for the impeachment of office holders, not former office holders:

Article 2 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.

No, it would not.

It seems rather clear. Congress may not do anything besides [ol][li]Remove him from office if he is currently in office, and/or[*]disqualify him from holding any other federal office.[/ol]That’s it.[/li]
I suppose Congress could pass a law revoking Secret Service protection for ex-Presidents if they wanted, but making it specific to a President would be a bill of attainder and also un-Constitutional.

One of the Great Legal Minds of the SDMB will be along to correct me shortly, I hope, but I believe this would be a question for the courts, not something that could be done with a finding of Congress, even a trial. Congress doesn’t set judicial precedent, IOW.

Sure it would be worthwhile - anything Congress can do to waste time and abuse their Constitutional role keeps them from f*ing up whatever else they might turn their attention to.

Congressional approval ratings are currently less than a third, and falling (cite). I seriously doubt if them trying to impeach someone who doesn’t hold office, and in direct violation of the clear sense and text of the Constitution, is going to reverse that.

Nevertheless, I hope they try it. It would be mighty entertaining. As well as give clear direction to Republicans on how to proceed when once they regain control of Congress.


Why would you need impeachment to do that? That’s not the point of impeachment, which is solely to remove someone from office. His perks can be removed by normal acts of Congress. I don’t think you could remove a President’s privilege or immunity after the fact. He was President at the time; Congress has limited power over the Presidency except to remove him/her from office.

The case could be made that the impeachment would be worthwhile in that it could prevent him from holding another office of profit or trust. In the unlikely event that Clinton or Bush would want to be Secretary of State, for instance, the impeachment could serve as a bar to that…

The US Constitution is not too clear on who can be impeached.

For example it says:

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United Sates are subject to impeachment.

But it fails to define what a civil officer is? It also doesn’t specifically limit impeachment to THOSE individuals.

The case of Senator Blunt form the 1700s was interesting as he was impeached and then argued before the Senate he wasn’t a “civil officer” as those are appointed by the President and he was elected by his state officials. (Back then Senators weren’t popularly elected)

The Senate then defeated a resolution stating that Blunt was a civil officer.

Since that time both the US House and Senate have passed resolutions saying only, President, Vice President, Judges and people appointed by the president are civil officers.

This would seem to indicate that private citizens are not impeachable. But it also leaves way to just passing another resolution allowing it. Senators and Representatives have never been a priority as both houses have their own rules and it’s easier to expell members than to go through an impeachment process.

When Nixon resigned after facing near certain impeachment the procedings were dropped. This also implies that only sitting office holders can be impeached.

Yet "civil officers’ is still a vague definition and still no one has ever officially declared that ONLY those listed can be impeached.

There are lots of “fun oddities” to examine in the impeachment process. For instance the US Constitution says that the Vice President shall preside over all impeachments except that of the President. Which makes sense, since if the President were impeached and removed he’d be next in line. But it also implies that the Vice President would preside over his own impeachment hearing.

A good book on this is:

The Federal impeachment process : a constitutional and historical analysis by Michael J. Gerhardt

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both served two terms as President and cannot be elected to that office again.

But would a theoretical impeachment also bar them from being elected to some other national office like a Senate seat or a judicial appoitnment?

No, it wouldn’t. A bill of attainder is a legislative act which declares a person guilty of some crime and punishes her without benefit of a trial. Congress has the power of the purse and may remove Secret Service protection from anyone it wishes, even the incumbent President (although it would have to be over the President’s veto, since such a removal would change current Federal law as to the responsibilities of the Service, to say nothing of being seriously crazy/political suicide). Congress has already provided by law that, beginning with George W. Bush, ex-Presidents have 10 years and not lifetime USSS protection, as was previously the case.

Agreed. Not claiming to be a Great Legal Mind, but I think Congress would be on very thin ice removing the privileges and immunities of a former President in a prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while in office. I can’t see the courts permitting Congress to do so.

There was one case of an official who, even after he resigned, was impeached by the House and tried by the Senate: Secretary of War William Belknap. The Senate failed to convict.

If prosecuted and convicted in a Federal criminal case, they would be felons and could not hold other national office anyway. No point in going through impeachment by the House and a trial in the Senate.

Alcee Hastings was impeached, convicted, and thrown out as a Federal judge in the early 1990s. Apparently the Senate had the option of disqualifying Hastings from serving in another Federal office, but chose not to do so. He is now a congressman from Florida.


This is not true. The Constitution lays out the requirements for becoming an elected official, and there is no bar to having a criminal history. Cite.

My mistake. I thought there was a provision in the U.S. Code about that.

On the basis that many Senators thought Belknap’s resignation made it moot, even though it wasn’t really.

That was likely in recognition of the inconvenient fact that he had actually been acquitted at his criminal trial, even though he really did take the money.
The only practical effect of impeaching Bush would be to prevent him from holding federal office again. The sight of a malefactor being brought to justice (of a sort) does have a salutary effect on society anyway, though, and possibly more so if it’s in our own Washington rather than the Hague. Or perhaps this protester swallowed the self-reassuring bullshit spread by the Clinton-haters during his own impeachment process that it isn’t just the nuclear option of statecraft but is actually a special kind of criminal court reserved for Presidents.

This is what I came in to post. The Belknap impeachment is an ambiguous precedent, but it is there:

The Nixon Impeachment Proceedings - United States Constitution


Id. fn. 45.

Are they saying “impeach” or “arrest?”

Back in the day, ABB’ers (Anybody But Bush) were telling everybody to wait until Bush gets out of office for criminal proceedings. If he was impeached, he could easily resign and get pardoned by Cheney.

Impeachment isn’t enough punishment.