House Committee To Consider Impeachment Of I.R.S. Commissioner

The House Committee investigating the IRS targeting scandal will consider impeaching the I.R.S. Commissioner over issues that are, at beast, only tangentially related to the scandal itself.

IRS Building

A House Committee will consider a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over issues related to the IRS targeting scandal:

A group of House Republicans led by the chairman of a powerful committee moved Tuesday to impeach the head of the Internal Revenue Service, saying he violated the public trust and lied to Congress as it investigated the treatment of conservative groups.

The announcement by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, came four days after the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the targeting scandal without filing criminal charges.

The last-ditch effort to remove IRS Commissioner John Koskinen follows through on a threat Chaffetz made over the summer after he called on President Obama to fire the commissioner, whom he accused of erasing back-up tapes containing thousands of e-mails written by Lois Lerner, the central IRS official in the scandal.

Koskinen took over the agency in late 2013 after the scandal broke. But Chaffetz said Koskinen had told lawmakers his agency had turned over all e-mails that were relevant to the investigation, and when e-mails were found to be missing, said they were unrecoverable.

“These statements were false,” Chaffetz said in a statement Tuesday.

“Commissioner Koskinen violated the public trust,” Chaffetz said. ”He failed to comply with a congressionally issued subpoena, documents were destroyed on his watch, and the public was consistently misled.”

“Impeachment is the appropriate tool to restore public confidence in the IRS and to protect the institutional interests of Congress.”

IRS officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The oversight committee has been investigating the IRS for more than two years, since agents were discovered to have subjected conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status to additional scrutiny.

Chaffetz was joined by 18 committee Republicans in sponsoring an impeachment resolution, which now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

House Democrats quickly denounced the move as political grandstanding.

“Calling this resolution a ‘stunt’ or a ‘joke’ would be insulting to stunts and jokes,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement. He said the impeachment resolution was “ridiculous” and a waste of taxpayer money.

Here are the specific charges against Chairman Koskinen from the resolution itself:

Specifically, Commissioner Koskinen violated the public trust in the following ways:

Failed to comply with a subpoena resulting in destruction of key evidence. Commissioner Koskinen failed to locate and preserve IRS records in accordance with a congressional subpoena and an internal preservation order. The IRS erased 422 backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 of Lois Lerner’s emails – key pieces of evidence that were destroyed on Koskinen’s watch.

Failed to testify truthfully and provided false and misleading information. Commissioner Koskinen testified the IRS turned over all emails relevant to the congressional investigation, including all of Ms. Lerner’s emails. When the agency determined Ms. Lerner’s emails were missing, Commissioner Koskinen testified the emails were unrecoverable. These statements were false.

Failed to notify Congress that key evidence was missing. The IRS knew Lois Lerner’s emails were missing in February 2014. In fact, they were not missing; the IRS destroyed the emails on March 4, 2014. The IRS did not notify Congress the emails were missing until June 2014 – four months later, and well after the White House and the Treasury Department were notified.

The irony of all of this, of course, is that Koskinen is the man who was brought into the IRS in the wake of the initial reports that the office that evaluated 501(c)(4) applications had given what the IRS’s own Inspector General called undue attention to applications from conservative organizations that applied for such status in 2011 and 2012. Koskinen had replaced Daniel Werfel, who had served as Acting IRS Commissioner from May through December of 2013 in the wake of the resignation of Stephen Miller, who himself had served as Acting IRS Commissioner since the last Commissioner confirmed by the Senate had resigned shortly after the 2012 election.

As it turned out, neither Koskinen, nor Werfel, nor Miller were in office at the time that the targeting was taking place out of the IRS’s Cincinnati office and, of course, that’s not really what Koskinen is being charged with here. Instead, the Committee is alleging that he has failed to cooperate with their investigation of the targeting story, specifically by not complying with requests regarding the recovery of Lois Lerner’s emails from her official account during the relevant time period. For some time, the agency had told Congress that most of these emails were lost because of a system crash, but later evidence seemed to indicate that at least some of the emails actually still existed while others may have been permanently lost due to the fact that the hard drive on Lerner’s computer was destroyed. As I noted at the time, these constantly changing stories did raise some credibility issues regarding the IRS’s cooperation with the investigation as well as the question of whether or not they were complying with the Federal Records Act and other laws and regulations that require official records to be preserved. Whether this rises to the level of an impeachable offense, of course, is a big question. Ordinarily, this would be something that Congress would seek to hold an agency or department head in contempt over and the matter would be resolved in that manner. For whatever reason, perhaps related to the fact that previous attempts to use the contempt power to force compliance in these situations has not been all that successful, the Committee did not choose to go that route.

Impeachment, of course, is no easier than the contempt route, and there’s a reason that it has only been used nineteen times in American history and that, other than the unsuccessful attempts to impeach and remove Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, it has exclusively been used to remove Federal Judges from office for one reason or another. Under the terms of the Constitution, a Cabinet or Executive Branch official such as Koskinen can be impeached, but the fact that it has never happened before in 226 years of American history is a good indication of just how unusual it would be. Going forward, the process requires the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to consider the impeachment resolution. If it passes the Committee, then it would go to the full House for consideration and, of course, if the House approves it via a simple majority then the matter would go to trial in the Senate where a two-thirds majority (67 votes) is required to convict the official and remove them from office.

Given the current composition of the Senate and the partisan nature of the charges, it seems unlikely that Koskinen would actually be convicted if it got to that point. However, it’s worth noting that this is as much about politics as it is about anything else, perhaps mostly about politics. With the announcement last week that the Justice Department will not bring criminal charges against Lerner in connection with the scandal, measures like this are the last means by which Congressional Republicans have to continue pursuing this matter. Given the fact that we are headed into election season, and that very few Americans like the IRS to begin with, it’s probable that they’re calculating that this is a move that will earn some points both within the Republican base and outside it.

 

FILED UNDER: Congress, Taxes, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    Impeach fever! Gotta Impeach somebody….

  2. C. Clavin says:

    ooooohhhh….all over the country people with tri-corn hats are touching themselves inappropriately.
    What a farce the Republican party has become.
    You would have to be a complete ignoramus to vote Republican for any national office these days.

  3. robz says:

    They’re mad that the Benghazi thing isn’t working out so they’re gonna take a big crap on this guy’s life.

  4. Argon says:

    Right, so John Brennan, CIA Director who lied to and spied upon Congress gets a pass?

  5. James Pearce says:

    Refresh my memory….what was this IRS scandal about originally?

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @James Pearce:
    It was about paying millions in hush-money to keep the male youngster he abused, while a teacher and a coach, silent.
    Oh…wait….that was Dennis Hastert.
    Never mind.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    So, Republicans want to impeach Lerner for doing what the IRS is supposed to do – review the non-profit tax status of organizations claiming to be tax-exempt under the IRS code. Not only that, Lerner had the unmitigated gall to exercise her constitutional rights with regard to testifying before a congressional committee.

    They’re going to do this because they can, and it is clear that the flame-throwers in the House and some in the Senate want a body count.

    Republicans had better hope that what goes around doesn’t come around.

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Republicans had better hope that what goes around doesn’t come around.

    If that was the case Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and the rest of the Iraq cabal would be in jail already. No investigation needed…they already admitted to war crimes.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    No…silly. It was about the guy that fought having to provide contraception to his employees by saying that…

    “honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

    …when it turns out he was actually stealing antiquities and lying to customs.
    Oh wait…that was the guy from Hobby Lobby. Never mind.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    However, it’s worth noting that this is as much about politics as it is about anything else, perhaps mostly about politics.

    Doug Mataconis, master of understatement, strikes again.

  11. Davebo says:

    @gVOR08:

    Both sides do it! I recall the impeachment of Reagan’s secretary of agriculture!

    Oh, wait.. Never mind.

  12. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: I love how they turned from “religiously-motivated dicks” to “Indiana Jones villains” in the space of a few years. Because the Bible needs a museum!

    @Argon: An actual case of “both sides do it.” Feinstein wasn’t upset enough to publish a summary of a report on torture (we’re already some degrees from the truth) until she found them messing with Congressional inquiry. She was perfectly fine with mass surveillance until then.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    So, Republicans want to impeach Lerner for doing what the IRS is supposed to do

    Nobody’s impeaching Lerner; she’s long gone.

    They want to impeach Koskinen. Ostensibly this is for lying to Congress(*). In practice, it’s for being the head of the IRS, and still available to be impeached.

    (*) “Lying” requires intent to deceive. Can you imagine holding the CEO of a Fortune 500 company responsible for not getting his facts right regarding corporate emails from a machine that no longer exists, that were sent before he joined the company by someone 3 or 4 rungs down the corporate ladder? No sane person would expect that CEO to have any firsthand knowledge of the facts; he would repeat to the investigators whatever his CTO told him. The CTO, in turn, would be repeating whatever his lieutenant told him, and so on down the chain to someone who manages geeks but isn’t one himself. Hard to see how that could get garbled, misreported, or (possibly) falsified at some point along the chain…

  14. pylon says:

    “Calling this resolution a ‘stunt’ or a ‘joke’ would be insulting to stunts and jokes,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement

    I like this fellow quite a bit.

  15. Stan says:

    I can’t see how the IRS could have thought that an organization with Tea Party in its name could be political rather than charitable. Obviously, impeachment of everybody involved is appropriate. And of all those pesky government scientists with their lies about carbon dioxide and global warming. And of Hillary Clinton if she’s elected. Why not?

  16. cian says:

    Is anyone else here worried by the rise of the republican special committees and the abuse of their power? It seems clear that they see the committees as a way to intimidate and harass those they disagree with (Chaffetz’s vendetta against the IRS chief, the Science Committee’s targeting scientists who support the notion of man made climate change). McCarthyism is back and becoming routine. The implications for American democracy are alarming.

  17. bob says:

    The jails are filled with people that say they were unfairly targeted. Lets force the groups in question to open their books and prove their main function and activity is social welfare charity to the community as the tax code requires. Everyone knows many of these groups main function and activity is to funnell unlimited amounts of money to political agendas and candidates without having to disclose it’s source. If these groups are one of them, they were not unjustly targeted and have no beef.

  18. Tony W says:

    This is what happens when you give power to schoolchildren. If you are surprised by all this, then you have not noticed that Trump and Carson are battling it out for the Republican presidential nod. Seriously. Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman peaked too early, it would appear.

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @DrDaveT: Can you imagine holding the CEO of a Fortune 500 company responsible for not getting his facts right regarding corporate emails from a machine that no longer exists, that were sent before he joined the company by someone 3 or 4 rungs down the corporate ladder?

    Who needs to imagine that? That sort of thing has been part of the Democratic agenda for decades. It might even be part of Sarbanes-Oxley.

    The guy repeatedly lied under oath, and countenanced the destruction of subpoenaed materials. And we know that the Obama administration won’t do their jobs — the only people in the administration who get punished are whistle-blowers and other people who don’t show proper loyalty.

    Lerner kept her mouth shut, so she gets a pass.

    Petraeus was embarrassing, so he got nailed.

    Hillary wasn’t personally responsible for Benghazi, so she gets a pass. It was the fault of people beneath her — whom also kept their mouths shut, so they weren’t fired or reprimanded or disciplined in any way.

    The only guy punished over Fast & Furious was the whistle-blower.

    The only people punished over the VA mess were the whistle-blowers.

    Doug, I’m disappointed. You missed the story of the Amish guy who wants a gun permit, but his faith says he can’t pose for a photo ID. How many ways can you mock that one? He’s religious, he wants to own a gun — you and the regulars could spend hours mocking and insulting him.

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Nobody’s impeaching Lerner; she’s long gone.
    They want to impeach Koskinen. Ostensibly this is for lying to Congress(*). In practice, it’s for being the head of the IRS, and still available to be impeached.

    Thanks Dave. I realized that too late, my 5 minutes had passed, and I could not edit my comment.

  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I see Jenos has started drinking again. Yay …

  22. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    How many ways can you mock that one? He’s religious, he wants to own a gun — you and the regulars could spend hours mocking and insulting him.

    What does an Amish gun-owner have to do with the head of the IRS being impeached?

    Have you heard anyone mocking and insulting him? Is this a pre-emptive attack on the liberals who might mock and insult him?

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @James Pearce: It was parenthetical. I was wondering if Doug had seen the story. It seems tailor-made for the audience here.

    Can’t you see the comments? “Why does he think his stupid mythology exempts him from the law?” “Why does he need a gun, anyway? Aren’t they too modern for the Amish?”

  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Who needs to imagine that? That sort of thing has been part of the Democratic agenda for decades.

    And yet you apparently can’t come up with even one actual instance of it? Gotcha.

    Petraeus was embarrassing, so he got nailed.

    Seriously? No criminal charges, no demotion, no discharge-other-than-honorable, no loss of pension… Seems to me that the good General did all of the nailing in this story.

  25. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It was parenthetical.

    It was also misdirectional, like you don’t really want to talk about the IRS “scandal” and would rather introduce your own topic.

    Why talk about that when we could be talking about that girl who got thrown across the room because she didn’t respect a SRO’s authoritah.

    Let’s talk guns, religious exceptions, evil liberals laughing at the Amish.

    And seriously….the Amish are funny. I dare anyone to dispute it. The Amish guy who refuses to take a photo in order to purchase his gun? That’s a joke just waiting to be written.

    It’s not really a cause to rally to, though…

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    @DrDaveT: And yet you apparently can’t come up with even one actual instance of it? Gotcha.

    I said it’s been part of the agenda, not that it had been applied. But if you’d like examples, look at the Obama administration’s statements after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Or the outrage about how no CEOs went to jail after the last fiscal meltdown. Or the calls for the heads of Toyota after their last recall mess. (Oddly enough, GM had an even worse mess with their ignition switches, but since that occurred partly during the federal government owning of GM, the response was a bit more muted.)

    But back to the IRS… the guy lied under oath and destroyed evidence, apparently expecting the Obama administration to protect him, as it did so many others. And they did — he wasn’t fired or prosecuted. But that darned pesky Constitution says that Congress has its own ways of handling that kind of misconduct that the Obama administration can’t interfere with…

  27. Jenos Idanian says:

    @James Pearce: And seriously….the Amish are funny. I dare anyone to dispute it. The Amish guy who refuses to take a photo in order to purchase his gun? That’s a joke just waiting to be written.

    Who’s rallying to his defense? I just said the exact thing you did, but more cynically.

    And yeah, the Amish can be funny.

    The one thing that bugs me about this story is that it KILLS one of my favorite jokes.

    What goes “Clop-Clop-BANG!, Clop-Clop-BANG!?”

    And Amish drive-by shooting.

  28. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    And Amish drive-by shooting.

    In the Amish Mafia, you never see it coming.

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    But back to the IRS… the guy lied under oath and destroyed evidence

    You know this… how? The voices in your head?

    I’d be intrigued to see any evidence you might have that Koskinen lied — i.e. deliberately and knowingly spoke falsehood — as opposed to merely saying things that he thought were true, but turned out not to be.

    I’d be even more intrigued to see your evidence that he, personally, either destroyed evidence or ordered it to be destroyed.

    I won’t hold my breath, though.