House committee votes to censure IRS head

House committee votes to censure IRS head
© Greg Nash

A House committee on Wednesday passed a resolution to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, furthering the GOP-led push for his impeachment.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the measure by a 23-15 vote along party lines. 

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The Wednesday vote comes a week before the House Judiciary Committee will hold its second hearing to consider whether Koskinen should be impeached.

The censure resolution condemns Koskinen for a pattern of conduct “that is incompatible with his duties and inconsistent with the trust and confidence placed in him as an officer of the United States.” 

It asserts that Koskinen failed to comply with a subpoena and made false statements under oath as Congress investigated 2013 revelations that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. 

The resolution calls on Koskinen to resign or be removed from office, and it recommends that he be required to give up his federal pension and other benefits. It does not force Koskinen to give up his pension, though. 

Because it expresses the sense of the House, the Senate is not required to act on the censure.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzDem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Chaffetz replacement sworn in as House member Democrats expand House map after election victories MORE (R-Utah), who introduced the resolution and has also introduced a measure to impeach Koskinen, said “censure is a first step” toward impeachment.

He called the resolution a “necessary repercussion” for Koskinen.

“We owe it to the American people to ensure their government officials are held accountable for misconduct,” Chaffetz said. “When there’s a duly issued subpoena, you have to comply with it. When you come to Congress, you must testify truthfully.” 

Censure may be easier for the House to vote on than impeachment. If the House voted to impeach Koskinen, the Senate would then have to convict the commissioner for him to be removed. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchProminent conservative passes on Utah Senate bid Republicans offer this impossible choice: Tax cuts or senior care Senate GOP running out of options to stop Moore MORE (R-Utah) has said there’s no chance the Senate would act on impeachment.

There is also little time for Congress to act further on the matter because Congress is in Washington for less time than usual this year due to the elections.

Democrats have said Koskinen should not be censured, arguing there is a difference between misspeaking and deliberately lying. Plus, they say, Koskinen was testifying based on his knowledge at the time.

“This resolution is a waste of time. It is going nowhere, has no practical effect,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee.  

He called Koskinen an “honorable man” and pointed out that the Department of Justice and a Republican-appointed inspector general found no evidence of politically motivated targeting or obstruction of justice. 

Cummings offered an amendment that he said would “correct basic errors and inaccuracies” in the resolution. Chaffetz offered modifications to the amendment to accept one of Cummings’s changes but reject others. The amendment passed with Chaffetz’s changes.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) offered an amendment to strike nearly all of the text of the resolution and replace it with text about the inspector general's findings and a provision that the House believes Koskinen “is an honorable public servant who has been extraordinarily cooperative with Congress, the Inspector General, and the Department of Justice.” It also recommended that Koskinen keep his pension. 

But that amendment failed. Chaffetz said he opposed it because the inspector general and Justice Department were not looking at Koskinen’s comments. 

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that calling Koskinen an honorable public servant and cooperative is “ridiculous.”

Koskinen told reporters last month that he thinks the censure resolution lacks merit.  

"If there's no basis in the facts for an impeachment resolution, then I don't think there's any basis for a censure resolution," he said.