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Five things to watch for at IRS impeachment hearing

Greg Nash

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will defend himself on Wednesday against calls for his impeachment in a much-anticipated House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The hearing comes as part of a deal between House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that delayed a floor vote on impeaching Koskinen planned for last week.

{mosads}Conservatives who back impeachment for Koskinen say he hindered congressional investigations into whether the IRS unfairly scrutinized applications from conservative groups for tax-exempt status.

Koskinen, who took the reins of the IRS several months after the 2013 controversy broke, says the allegations against him are without merit.

Republicans themselves are divided over impeachment, with some seeing the entire effort as misguided.

Here are five things to watch at the hearing.

 

Will Koskinen stick to his defense?

Koskinen has mounted an aggressive defense against the GOP’s allegations, and there is little reason to think he’ll take a different approach on Wednesday. 

The commissioner’s lawyers said Friday that he wants to clarify facts and describe reforms that the IRS has made during his tenure to address the improper scrutiny of conservative groups. 

The impeachment resolutions filed against Koskinen said he did not comply with a congressional subpoena seeking communications to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner because backup tapes containing emails from Lerner were erased.

It also accused him of making false and misleading statements about the tapes and emails.

In written comments provided to the Judiciary Committee in May, he said the erasure of the backup tapes was an accident. He also said he testified truthfully before Congress based on what he knew at the time and warned that pursuing impeachment would set a bad precedent that would make it harder for the federal government to attract people to lead its agencies.

Koskinen will have the support of Democrats on the committee, who have disputed the allegations against him.

Koskinen’s term goes beyond President Obama’s — until November 2017. He has suggested that he would step aside if the next president wanted to replace him before his term expires.

 

Who will hit Koskinen the hardest?

Koskinen has a number of critics on the Judiciary Committee, and many of them will be looking to make news on Wednesday by aggressively attacking the IRS chief.

It’s unclear which member will be the most aggressive, because there are several who have been pushing for impeachment for months.

Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who made the case for impeachment as witnesses at a hearing in May, sit on the committee. Jordan is also a member of the panel, and his office sent out a press release Tuesday to publicize that the lawmaker will be questioning Koskinen.

In addition to Jordan and DeSantis, there are several other Freedom Caucus members on the Judiciary Committee, including Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho).

Conservatives are still upset about the political-targeting scandal and have been emboldened by an August ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the agency had not completely stopped the targeting.

“They’re still targeting conservative groups,” Jordan said during a House floor speech last week.

 

How split are Republicans?

Republicans are divided over whether they want to go forward with impeachment — even on the Judiciary Committee itself.

Only some of the committee members have signed on to the impeachment resolution introduced by Chaffetz. Other Republicans have expressed concerns that Koskinen’s
actions don’t meet the standards for impeachment described in the Constitution.

The Freedom Caucus said in a statement last week that the group thinks the hearing will “remove any lingering excuses for those who have been hesitant to proceed with this course of action.”

 

Will Goodlatte show his cards?

Goodlatte hasn’t been especially helpful to those pushing for Koskinen’s impeachment.

He hasn’t scheduled any hearings on Koskinen on his own and has only done so to avoid a floor vote on impeachment. 

In May, he called the allegations against Koskinen “serious” and asked Chaffetz and DeSantis about the extent to which management failures at the IRS occurred because of Koskinen. However, he did not give his personal thoughts about impeachment.

Close observers of the IRS fight — and of the internal House GOP’s politics — will be watching to see if Goodlatte shows more of his feelings about the matter on Wednesday.

In what might have been a preview of where he sees the process going, Goodlatte in June asked legal experts questions about ways to punish Koskinen besides impeachment.

 

Does the hearing stave off efforts to force a floor vote?

Although Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week’s deal would delay a floor vote until November, any House member could technically force a vote earlier by filing a “privileged resolution.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) on Thursday said he intended for there to be a vote this week. Huelskamp lost his primary this summer to an establishment-backed candidate, so he has little to lose if he calls up a privileged resolution.

A spokesman for Huelskamp did not respond to questions from The Hill about whether the congressman is still thinking about forcing a vote.

But a spokesman for Jordan said that the he has encouraged Huelskamp not to force a vote this week.

It’s unclear how the impeachment issue will ultimately resolve itself in the House and what action could be taken in a lame-duck session of Congress. Leadership has been reluctant to hold a vote, but Freedom Caucus members are unlikely to be satisfied until one is held.

Freedom Caucus member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said last week that he hopes Goodlatte decides after the hearing to take further steps and possibly hold another hearing with witnesses for and against Koskinen.

“I fully expect that there will be a vote; whether that happens before the election or after the election is really more a function of Chairman Goodlatte and what comes out of the Judiciary Committee,” he said.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Jason Chaffetz Paul Ryan Trent Franks

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