20 federal officials have been impeached in US history — here are the wildest reasons why

Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.

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Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
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Library of Congress
  • The House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump following a whistleblower scandal involving a Trump call to the leader of Ukraine, and his trial is currently underway in the Senate.
  • Congress holds the Constitutional power to charge federal officials with crimes and remove them from office.
  • In US history, just 19 federal officials – one senator, one cabinet secretary, three presidents, and 15 judges – were impeached.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a historic move on December 18, the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump.

In US history, just 20 federal officials – one senator, one Cabinet secretary, three presidents, and 15 judges – were impeached. Of those impeachments, just seven have occurred in the past 80 years.

President Richard Nixon, the only president to resign from office, was actually never impeached. He stepped down before proceedings had begun. The two presidents who were impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, were both acquitted by the Senate. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate.

Here are the stories behind the 20 federal officials who were impeached in US history:

An earlier version of this article was written by Allan Smith.


William Blount

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William Blount.
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Tennessee Portrait Project/Wikipedia

The first federal official to be subject to impeachment was Blount, a US Senator from Tennessee, in 1797.

Blount was accused of conspiring to allow Britain to gain control of Florida and Louisiana in exchange for American access to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. A letter outlining the plan was turned over to President John Adams, who came to the conclusion that what Blount was trying to pull off amounted to a crime.

The House voted to hold impeachment hearings, but the Senate, taking responsibility for one of their own, took control of the matter and voted to essentially expel him from the governing body.


John Pickering

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John Pickering.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pickering, a district judge in New Hampshire, was impeached in 1803 and convicted by the Senate in 1804 for, among other things, being drunk.

President Thomas Jefferson accused Pickering of having bad morals because he was drunk while on the bench. Jefferson also accused the district judge of making unlawful rulings, but Pickering’s drunkenness is what he’s more remembered for.

“I shall be sober tomorrow,” Pickering said at the start of a November 1802 hearing, according to Politico. “I am now damned drunk.”


Samuel Chase

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Samuel Chase.
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Wikimedia Commons

Chase was an associate judge on the US Supreme Court. He was impeached in March of 1804 for “arbitrary and oppressive” conduct during trials. Chase was ultimately acquitted for the charges by the Senate.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


James H. Peck

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James Peck.
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Wikipedia

Peck was a district court judge in Tennessee. He was impeached in 1830 on charges of abuse of the contempt power, but was later acquitted.


West Hughes Humphreys

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West Hughes Humphreys.
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Wikipedia

West Hughes Humphreys was impeached for something that no federal official could find themselves subjected to in modern times: serving simultaneously as a US district court judge in Tennessee and as a Confederate judge in the same state at the beginning of the Civil War.

Impeached in 1862, Humphreys was subsequently convicted on charges including calling for secession from the union, aiding an armed rebellion, and serving as a Confederate judge.

One charge he was not convicted on? Confiscating property belonging to President Abraham Lincoln-appointed Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson, the future president.

Speaking of Johnson…


Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.

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Andrew Johnson.
source
Library of Congress

President Johnson, one of only three US presidents to be impeached, was famously loathed by many in Congress. So much so that Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which curtailed the president’s ability to fire members of his own Cabinet.

Johnson went ahead and tried to fire his secretary of war anyway, and was subsequently impeached by the House in 1868. He avoided conviction in the Senate by one vote.

The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in its entirety in 1887.


Mark W. Delahay

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Mark W. Delahay
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Kansas Historical Society, Cool Things/Wikimedia Commons

Delahay was a district judge in Kansas who was impeached in 1873 on charges of intoxication on the bench. He resigned prior to the Senate trial.


William Belknap

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William Belknap.
source
Library of Congress

Belknap served as the US Secretary of War when he was impeached in 1876 on charges of “criminal disregard for his office and accepting payments in exchange for making official appointments.” He was acquitted by the Senate.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


Charles Swayne

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Shutterstock/Andrey Popov

Swayne was a judge serving the northern district of Florida. He was impeached in 1904 on charges of abuse of contempt power and other “misuses of office.” He was acquitted by the Senate.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


Robert W. Archbald

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Robert W. Archbald.
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Wikimedia Commons

Archbald was an associate judge on the US Commerce Court. He was impeached in 1912 for inappropriate business relations with litigants. He was removed from his position and disqualified from holding future office.


George W. English

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George W. English
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Wikimedia Commons

English was a district court judge in Illinois when he was impeached in April of 1926 on charges of abuse of power. The Senate trial began in late April, but English resigned in November of that year.


Harold Louderback

Louderback was a district judge for the northern district of California, when he was impeached in February of 1933 on charges of “favoritism in the appointment of bankruptcy receivers.” Louderback was acquitted by the Senate after a week-long trial in May of that year.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


Halsted L. Ritter

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Halsted Ritter
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Wikimedia Commons

Ritter was a judge for the Southern District of Florida when he was impeached in 1986 on charges of “favoritism in bankruptcy receivers and practicing law as a sitting judge.”

Ritter was found guilty later that year by the Senate and removed from office.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


Harry E. Claiborne

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US District Judge Harry Claiborne of Las Vegas (C) during his impeachment trial, convicted in 1984 of income tax evasion.
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Photo by Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Claiborne served as the district court judge of Nevada when he was impeached in 1986 for income tax invasion and “of remaining on the bench following criminal conviction.”

Claiborne was found guilty and removed from office.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


Alcee L. Hastings

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Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) (C) speaks about black judicial nominees, while flanked by (L-R) Rep. Fredrica Wilson (D-FL), Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX), Rep. Marcia Fudge , during a news conference on Capitol Hill July 17, 2013 in Washington, DC.
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Getty / Mark Wilson

Hastings, who currently serves as a Democratic representative in Florida, was impeached as a district court judge in the southern district of Florida in 1988. Hastings was found guilty and removed from his position the following year.


Walter L. Nixon

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Walter Nixon
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Wikimedia Commons

Walter Nixon – not to be confused with former President Richard Nixon who resigned before he was impeached – was a district judge in Mississippi when he was impeached on charges of perjury in front of a federal grand jury in 1989.

He was found guilty and removed from office later that year.


Bill Clinton

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Bill Clinton working late in the Oval Office on March 18, 1993.
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Jeffrey Markowitz/Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton became the second impeached president in history after he was impeached on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice in 1998. He was acquitted by the Senate the following year.


Samuel B. Kent

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Samuel B. Kent
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Wikimedia Commons

Kent was a district court judge in Texas. He was impeached in Juune of 2009 on charges of “sexual assault, obstructing and impeding an official proceeding, and making false and misleading statements.” He resigned late that month before the completion of his trial.

Source: House of Representative’s History, Art and Archives


G. Thomas Porteous, Jr.

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WASHINGTON, DC- September 16: On Capitol Hill arguments and evidence is heard in the impeachment of U.S. District Court Judge of Louisiana G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., right, Thursday September 16, 2010. The 63-year-old judge, based in New Orleans, faces four articles of impeachment, including allegations that he lied during background investigations related to his 1994 nomination to the federal bench. Porteous’ lead attorney is Jonathan Turley. The committees Chairwomen is Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
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Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Porteous was a district judge in Louisiana. He was impeached on charges of accepting bribes and perjury in 2010. He was found guilty by the Senate later that year, removed and disqualified from holding future office.


Donald J. Trump

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Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump became the third president in US history to be impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December 2019.

The current president’s impeachment trial began in January 2020 as the House impeachment managers make their case to the Senate on whether or not to remove the president.