Republicans threaten contempt charges against Obama's IRS chief

House Republicans on Monday demanded that President Obama fire IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and announced that they have begun contempt proceedings against the tax chief.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), flanked by more than a dozen Republicans on his committee, said the panel would use any and all methods available — including contempt of Congress charges or impeachment — to take aim at Koskinen.

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Republicans are escalating their scrap with the IRS after the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration finished an investigation into the agency’s handling of emails to and from Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the agency's 2013 controversy over targeting Tea Party groups.

The Republicans sent a roughly 30-page letter to Obama on Monday, outlining a case that includes the accusation that Koskinen lied to Congress

“Mr. Koskinen failed to testify truthfully. The statements he made to Congress were false,” Chaffetz said. “And there are consequences for misleading Congress.”

More than two years after the IRS acknowledged improperly scrutinizing Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status, Chaffetz and his fellow Republicans said the IRS obstructed their investigation in other ways as well, by not complying with subpoenas and failing to follow protocols for an internal preservation order to ensure a document trail for outside investigations.

Koskinen took over the IRS late in 2013, more than six months after the controversy broke. The IRS chief said at the time he hoped to restore the trust and confidence of taxpayers — and congressional Republicans — in the agency.

But GOP lawmakers have increasingly turned against him in the last 18 months, particularly after the IRS acknowledged that it couldn't find an untold number of emails linked to Lerner.

Oversight Republicans turned up that criticism a notch on Monday, with Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who's running for Senate, saying Koskinen had "laughed off" the congressional investigations.

"Koskinen failed in every single duty he had," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the sharpest critics of the IRS.

The IRS said in a statement that "the record is clear" that Koskinen and the agency have cooperated with the roughly half-dozen congressional investigations.

"The agency will continue to cooperate with the committees, support the important oversight role of Congress as well as make additional improvements in our operations and processes," the IRS said.

The new push from the GOP also underscored that the political battle lines over the IRS are as solid as ever, almost 27 months after the controversy first broke.

Republicans believe the IRS intentionally targeted conservatives, but  Democrats have long said that there's no proof that the IRS's actions were politically motivated or that there was White House involvement.

On Monday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the Oversight panel’s top Democrat, called the Republicans’ new letter nothing more than a “strange, oddly-timed rehashing of conspiracy theories.”

Cummings, who has frequently praised Chaffetz for working across the aisle on the committee, added that a Treasury inspector general also found no reason to believe the IRS destroyed Lerner emails on purpose and accused Republicans of trying to preempt a bipartisan Senate report due soon.

“Calls for Commissioner Koskinen to step down are nothing more than a manufactured Republican political crisis based on allegations that have already been debunked,” Cummings said.

Still, there’s no doubt that the long-simmering controversy over the IRS’s handling of tax-exempt applications has flared up once more in recent months.

Republicans have suggested that Koskinen misled Congress about the IRS's efforts to find the emails after the Treasury inspector general found that the agency destroyed hundreds of backup tapes containing Lerner emails.

They also said that Koskinen wasn’t truthful when he told Congress — before the IRS disclosed that Lerner's emails were missing — that the agency would hand over all her documents.


And GOP lawmakers, pointing to a new Government Accountability Office report, are expressing concerns that conservative groups could face biased audits from the IRS as well.

That all comes as Obama himself has become increasingly dismissive of the IRS controversy, saying last year that there wasn't a "smidgen of corruption" at the agency. The president blamed the problems at the IRS on a "crummy law" during an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" last week.

Chaffetz chided the president for not taking the IRS issue seriously enough, but also acknowledged that “there will be a gap” in the committee’s investigation because some 24,000 of Lerner’s emails won’t be found.

“We have an obligation to follow through, to the ends of the earth if need be, to get as close to the truth as we possibly can,” Chaffetz said.

Updated at 6:58 p.m.