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.
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.