IRS chief is unexpected survivor in Trump era

IRS chief is unexpected survivor in Trump era
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One of Republicans’ least favorite Obama administration officials remains in his position: IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

Some Republicans lawmakers have asked President Trump to ask for Koskinen’s resignation. The commissioner’s term expires in November, but he has said he would step aside sooner if asked by the president.

But more than two months into Trump’s presidency, Koskinen is still in office, and the White House has not given a definitive answer about his future.

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Koskinen will be in the spotlight in the coming weeks ahead of the April 18 tax-filing deadline. He is scheduled to speak at the National Press Club on Wednesday and before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. 

Former President Obama nominated Koskinen to lead the IRS in 2013, not long after it was revealed that the agency had subjected Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny and delays. Koskinen had not previously worked at the IRS and had a background as a turnaround specialist. 

Many Republicans accuse Koskinen of impeding congressional investigations into the political-targeting scandal. They argue that he made false and misleading statements under oath and didn’t comply with a subpoena. 

During the last months of Obama’s presidency, some House Republicans pushed for a vote on Koskinen’s impeachment, despite reservations from House GOP leadership.

In December, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered a “privileged” resolution on impeachment in an effort to force a vote, but the House voted to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee. Koskinen has said that the allegations in the impeachment resolution lacked merit.

Since Trump has taken office, there have been calls from GOP lawmakers for Koskinen to step down. Days after Trump’s inauguration, Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and more than 50 other lawmakers sent a letter urging Trump to fire Koskinen “in the most expedient manner practicable.” 

RSC spokesman Travis Hall said that lawmakers haven’t received a response to their letter. “We understand, however, the administration remains busy putting its team in place, and we look forward to its response,” he said in a statement.

It’s unclear why Trump hasn’t ousted Koskinen or if he plans to do so in the future. Koskinen has said in the past that he hasn’t had conversations with members of Trump’s team about resignation.

When asked about Koskinen on Feb. 2, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I have nothing to update you on.” On March 16, Spicer said “there’s no personnel updates.”

The White House did not respond to questions from The Hill on Friday about Koskinen.

“My impression is that the administration is of two minds on this” and it’s still figuring out how to address the issue, said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. His group and other conservative organizations recently had a meeting with White House officials where the topic of Koskinen’s future was discussed.

Fitton noted that Trump and Koskinen have a personal connection, which could make Trump hesitant to act.

Koskinen and Trump first met in the 1970s. At the time, Koskinen worked for a firm that managed non-rail assets of Penn Central, which had filed for bankruptcy. One of those assets was the Commodore Hotel, which Trump purchased in his first big business deal.

“For several months, I negotiated with Mr. Trump the sale to him of the Commodore, which he subsequently then converted into the Grand Hyatt, which is still on top of Grand Central Station,” Koskinen said in a December interview with Tax Analysts. “So we spent several months negotiating that transaction, and I got to know him well at that time.”

Koskinen added that in the years since, he had kept in contact with Trump “on occasion” and that Trump had called to congratulate him when he was nominated to the IRS post. 

Trump still hasn’t gotten all of his Cabinet nominations confirmed, and he has yet to announce nominees for a number of lower-level political appointments.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist suggested that Trump might not have a replacement for Koskinen yet. He added that the fact that Koskinen hasn’t been fired yet doesn’t concern him, since this is something Trump can do at any point.

“Everyone will still hate this guy a month from now,” Norquist said. 

Aside from conservatives’ dislike of Koskinen’s conduct during their investigations into the political-targeting scandal, GOP lawmakers have been frustrated with the IRS’s customer service and information technology issues. 

Democrats have defended Koskinen and have criticized Republicans for cuts to the IRS’s budget.

The IRS said in a statement Friday that Koskinen is focused on his work at the agency and the tax-filing season.

“He is also focused on making sure the agency is protected from the ongoing attacks on our systems by organized criminals around the world and their continued efforts to file false refunds based on identity theft,” the IRS said.

The animosity toward Koskinen is particularly strong among House Republicans. While Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchRead Senate GOP's tax bill Senate panel to start tax bill markup on Monday Senate set for clash with House on tax bill MORE (R-Utah) and ranking Democrat Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenLobbying World Overnight Regulation: House to vote on repealing joint-employer rule | EPA won't say which areas don't meet Obama smog rule | Lawmakers urge regulators to reject Perry plan New tax plan will hinder care for older Americans MORE (Ore.) have invited Koskinen to testify before their panel about the tax-filing season, Koskinen is not expected to similarly testify before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyOvernight Health Care: Initial Senate tax bill doesn't repeal ObamaCare mandate | 600K sign up for ObamaCare in first four days | Feds crack down on opioid trafficking Overnight Finance: Senate GOP unveils different approach on tax reform | House tax bill heads to floor | House leaders eye vote next week | AT&T denies pressure for CNN sale GOP tax bill clears hurdle, heads to House floor MORE (R-Texas) said he wants Koskinen to step down.

“I am convinced that through his behavior and just abject lack of leadership that we can’t go forward with an independent, objective customer service-oriented Internal Revenue Service until he takes his leave,” Brady said. “And that is what I would encourage [the] president to consider.”

But Hatch views Koskinen more favorably, and he said he values the knowledge that the IRS chief can provide lawmakers. 

“He’s still IRS commissioner. I like him personally. And he’s been very cooperative in a lot of ways,” Hatch said. “He can give us information that nobody else can right now, so I’m happy to have him.”