House Republicans press case for impeaching IRS commissioner

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday took a step toward impeaching Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen with a hearing to examine his alleged misconduct during Congress’s investigation into the political-targeting controversy.

Republicans on the committee assailed Koskinen, saying he failed to comply with a subpoena and made false statements under oath.

{mosads}The only witnesses at the hearing were Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who called for Koskinen’s impeachment — an action other Republican lawmakers on the committee also support.

“We’re here today because Mr. Koskinen provided false testimony,” Chaffetz said. “He failed to comply with a duly issued subpoena. And when he knew there was a problem, he failed to properly inform Congress in a timely manner. In fact, I would argue that he actively misled Congress.”

Koskinen declined to appear at the hearing, saying he did not have time to prepare, but submitted a written statement calling Chaffetz’s impeachment resolution “without merit.” 

“While the allegations made by some members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are serious and relate to acknowledged errors made by the IRS, the Constitution reserves the use of impeachment for ‘treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors,’ ” Koskinen said. “None of my actions relating to the issues above, viewed in light of all the facts, come close to that level.”

The hearing was the first of two that the Judiciary Committee is planning to hold about Koskinen, who took office several months after a 2013 Treasury Department inspector general report found that the IRS was giving increased scrutiny to Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.

The second hearing, in June, will feature outside experts making recommendations about what further action Congress should take against the IRS chief, if any.

Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, introduced a resolution to impeach Koskinen in the fall and told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing that he hopes the House will take action on it. He said the resolution could be voted on by the Judiciary Committee or brought directly to the House floor.

He has also introduced a resolution to censure Koskinen, which he said could be a “first step” toward impeachment. The censure motion calls on Koskinen to resign or be removed by the president.

If a majority of House members vote in favor of the impeachment resolution, two-thirds of the Senate would then need to convict Koskinen for him to be removed from office.

During the hearing, Chaffetz showed a video detailing the political-targeting activities of the IRS and the investigations into the controversy. 

“The IRS targeting scandal was un-American,” Chaffetz said before the video was played. He said Koskinen “didn’t fix the problem; he made it worse.”

DeSantis, who is running for a Florida Senate seat, said the IRS destroyed up to 24,000 emails of former IRS official Lois Lerner after Koskinen was subpoenaed. In addition, DeSantis said, the IRS chief gave false testimony and the agency did not turn over all of the emails in its possession.

“It would be unthinkable for a taxpayer to treat an IRS audit the way the IRS has treated the congressional investigation,” he said. 

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee blasted the impeachment push, characterizing it as a witch hunt.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), said the impeachment resolution “fails by every measure.”

“It arises, sad to say, from the worst partisan instincts. It is not based in the facts. And it has virtually no chance of success, in my view, in the Senate,” he said.

Later, Conyers said that while he is sure the IRS made mistakes, “there seems to be an anti-IRS commissioner environment here.”

Several Democrats noted that investigations from the Treasury inspector general and the Department of Justice (DOJ) found no evidence that any IRS employees attempted to obstruct justice. They also pointed out that there are Republicans, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who have opposed impeachment.

But Chaffetz said the question of whether Koskinen complied with a subpoena is separate from the outcome of the DOJ’s investigation.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Congress has the ability to impeach and censure executive and judicial branch officials in order to root out corruption and abuse. The committee scheduled the hearing because Congress cannot take its responsibility to provide a check on the other branches of government lightly, he said.

Goodlatte called the misconduct allegations against Koskinen “serious” and asked the witnesses about the extent to which Koskinen is responsible for management failures at the IRS, though he did not explicitly say he wants to impeach him.

Republicans blasted Koskinen for not attending the hearing, and Goodlatte did not allow Koskinen’s written statement to be entered into the record.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called Koskinen’s statement “self-serving.”

“On what basis would we allow unsworn testimony for what should have been a sworn witness under the penalty of perjury?” he said.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) objected to Koskinen’s testimony being included in the record at all. “He had the chance to be here. He’s not,” Poe said.

After the sniping on the committee, Goodlatte ultimately did not allow Koskinen’s statement to be entered into the record.

Chaffetz disputed Koksinen’s assertion that he answered questions truthfully and to the best of his ability.

“He still doesn’t get it, because that’s not true,” he said.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Jason Chaffetz Orrin Hatch Ted Poe

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