Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Elise Stefanik have both introduced House resolutions attempting to “expunge” (or retroactively remove) Trump’s two impeachments from his permanent record. What exactly does that mean? Below we answer basic questions about this unprecedented proposal:
Is this actually a thing?
Can an impeachment be “expunged”?
Probably not, but there is some debate. Expungement is not mentioned in the Rules of the House or the U.S. Constitution. Georgetown University Law Center professor Joshua Chafetz told Newsweek that, “an impeachment cannot be expunged because it has effect outside of the House—that is, it causes the Senate to hold a trial.” This view is shared by other legal scholars, including Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis, who tweeted of the resolutions, “not sure that’s how it works,” and George Washington University professor and a former witness against Trump’s impeachment Jonathan Turley, who explained that impeachment “is not like a constitutional DUI. Once you are impeached, you are impeached.”
Another commenter, however, Indiana University Law professor Gerard Magliocca, argued in 2019 that the precedent set by the Senate’s decision to expunge its censure of President Andrew Jackson could allow the House to expunge an impeachment. Impeachment, however, is different from censure. Crucially, impeachment is a key constitutional process that involves both the House and Senate. It can result in the expulsion of the democratically elected president, a drastic mechanism reserved only for cases where the president’s continuation in office threatens the country. Censure, on the other hand, is not mentioned in the Constitution and simply expresses the formal disapproval of an elected official or public servant by only one chamber.
Is there any precedent for this in any record or any historical or founding document?
No. This has never been done, and as far as we can tell, it has never even been seriously contemplated until now.
What would “expungement” do, practically?
No one actually seems to know. The resolutions say that the “impeachment[s] of President Donald John Trump [are] expunged, as if such Articles had never passed the full House of Representatives.” That language doesn’t direct any specific action and thus seems to resemble a non-binding resolution like the House’s resolution recognizing March 14th as “Pi Day.”
In the context of criminal or civil cases there is an expungement process during which a record is closed and often destroyed. Expunged records no longer exist and cannot be retrieved; “sealed” records, on the other hand, are not destroyed or eliminated, but are rather hidden so that they appear to be expunged. Expungement has the practical effect of making it easier for a defendant to, for instance, pass a background check. That is also more or less what the Senate did following the Jackson censure expungement: “[a]fter the vote, the Secretary of the Senate ceremoniously brought the Senate Legislative Journal into the chamber and, according to the directions in the resolutions, drew ‘black lines around the said resolve, and [wrote] across the face thereof, in strong letters, the following words: “Expunged by order of the Senate this Sixteenth day of January in the year of our Lord, 1837.” Reps. Greene and Stefanik may intend for their resolutions to have a similar effect: to have the Clerk of House erase everything related to the two impeachment investigations and votes (but not the trials, which are the provenance of the Senate and would need a similar motion in the higher chamber) from the Congressional record, but their exact intentions are unclear.
What would these resolutions do for Donald Trump, legally?
Nothing, because there’s nothing to do. Donald Trump was impeached and acquitted. The impeachment process resulted in no legal harm, so expunging the impeachment would serve no legal purpose.
What would these resolutions do for Donald Trump, practically?
They would give more ammunition to his repeated claims that his impeachments were fraudulent and political, statements that both Reps. Greene and Stefanik echoed in their press release announcing the resolutions. But it’s not like he needs more ammunition: he says that constantly… He called his first impeachment a “hoax” the day it happened in 2019, and a few weeks later, after his acquittal, he suggested that his impeachment be expunged because “it was a hoax”. Just recently while complaining on Truth Social about his indictment in New York, he wrote, “You remember it just like I do: Russia, Russia, Russia; the Mueller Hoax; Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine; Impeachment Hoax 1; Impeachment Hoax 2….” He has repeated the claim that his two impeachments were political and a “hoax” so frequently that it has spawned documentaries and books and become part of the MAGA lexicon.
But even if these resolutions pass and succeed in getting the record of Trump’s impeachment in the House erased from the Congressional Record, it would not un-impeach him. It would not retract his Senate trial, nor could it. It would neither erase his actions on January 6th, nor the reality of his second impeachment and trial, nor the record developed by the January 6th Committee.