House Committee Votes To Censure I.R.S. Commissioner, Impeachment May Soon Follow
The man who was brought in to clean up the I.R.S. after the alleged targeting scandal became public is facing censure and possible impeachment. Proving that there really is such a thing as a thankless job.
The House Oversight Committee voted yesterday to censure the Commissioner of the I.R.S. due to alleged failures to cooperate in its investigation of the allegations that the I.R.S. targeted conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status:
WASHINGTON — A polarized House committee on Wednesday recommended that the House censure the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, John A. Koskinen, and seek to strip him of his office and his federal pension for “a pattern of conduct” that betrayed the trust of Congress and the public.
Following the House Republicans’ vote in 2012 to hold the attorney general at the time, Eric H. Holder Jr., in contempt of Congress, the action against Mr. Koskinen appeared to show the lengths they would go to pursue Obama administration officials they oppose. Separately they are considering the more severe action of impeaching Mr. Koskinen, a move that has not been taken against a federal executive other than two presidents in 140 years.
Censure by the House would be the first step, supporters say, yet its impact will probably be limited to political symbolism. The Senate, also run by Republicans, is not expected to follow suit, or to support impeachment. It is unclear when the full House might act on the censure resolution, said aides to House Republican leaders, who are unenthusiastic about the effort against the commissioner.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 23 to 15 for his censure, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed, after hours of exchanging condemnation and praise for Mr. Koskinen.
The roots of the case against him go back to May 2013, when Republicans alleged that a politically motivated I.R.S. subjected Tea Party groups to unfair scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status. Mr. Koskinen was hired in late 2013 to steady the agency and restore confidence, after the events in question. Republicans charge that he was complicit in the destruction of I.R.S. emails pertinent to the alleged targeting, and that he lied about the emails in testimony to Congress.
Mr. Koskinen, who was not present during Wednesday’s meeting, has denied wrongdoing and said he testified based on his understanding at the time. Democrats repeatedly noted that the inspector general of the Treasury, a Republican, and the Justice Department found no evidence of political motivation either in the handling of the emails or in the scrutiny of conservative groups.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the oversight committee, said that Mr. Koskinen delayed at least two months in telling Congress two years ago, in June 2014, that pertinent emails had been among those routinely destroyed at the I.R.S.’s West Virginia office. “And then he lied to us, under oath,” Mr. Chaffetz said, about what emails he would produce.
Since then, Mr. Chaffetz said, “Mr. Koskinen has never made an attempt to clarify or amend any of his prior statements.”
While he said the commissioner should be impeached — next week the House Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on that — “censure is a helpful first step.”
“We owe it to the American people to ensure government officials are held accountable for misconduct,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “When there is a duly issued subpoena, you have to comply with it. When you come to Congress, you must testify truthfully. If you find later that there has been a mistake in your testimony, you need to come and explain that and correct the record.”
The Democratic minority put up a vigorous if doomed defense, led by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the senior party member on the committee. He called the case against the commissioner “bogus” and “a travesty.”
“John Koskinen is an honorable man,” Mr. Cummings said. “This 76-year-old gentleman came out of retirement to take on the difficult and thankless job.”
Mr. Cummings told Mr. Chaffetz: “Your core accusation against the commissioner is that he was deceitful and that he misled the Congress, but you completely disregard the difference between a misstatement and a lie.”
Mr. Cummings also quoted praise for Mr. Koskinen from Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican colleague of Mr. Chaffetz in Utah’s congressional delegation, who is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that has jurisdiction over the I.R.S. The censure resolution “is going nowhere,” Mr. Cummings said. “It has no practical effect.”
Democrats pointed to what they described as three factual inaccuracies in Mr. Chaffetz’s resolution. Mr. Cummings, suggesting the irony of that, said he was sure those were “honest mistakes” by Mr. Chaffetz, though “the same is true of Commissioner Koskinen.”
Mr. Chaffetz acknowledged one mistake about exactly when Mr. Koskinen learned the emails had been destroyed and amended the language of the resolution to correct it, but he and the Republicans defeated Democrats’ amendments otherwise.
Republicans on the committee repeatedly raised the allegations of targeting of conservative groups that predated Mr. Koskinen’s arrival at the I.R.S. and were not part of the case against him. Even as the committee met, the group Tea Party Patriots emailed a fund-raising appeal tied to its push for Mr. Koskinen’s punishment.
As I noted when the notion of Koskinen being impeached was first being considered, the irony of the position Koskinen finds himself in is that he was not even the Commissioner of the I.R.S. when the alleged targeting of the applications of conservative organizations for 501(c)(4) status took place. Instead, he was the guy who was brought in, ostensibly after having retired from government service, to clean up the mess at the I.R.S. that the -targeting allegations had created. In fact, neither Daniel Wefel nor Stephen Miller, who had served as Acting IRS Commissioner from the time the last Commissioner confirmed by the Senate resigned shortly after the 2012 Presidential election to December 2013 and immediately preceded Koskinen in the position were in office at the time the alleged targeting was taking place.
The cause of the House Committee’s dispute with Koskinen, though, wasn’t about the alleged targeting itself, but about the Committee’s investigation and his role in the agencies alleged failure to cooperate with the committee. Essentially, the Committee’s dispute with Koskinen, which The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips explains in detail, concerns the production of documents in connection with the investigation, including specifically the emails of retired IRS employee Lois Lerner, who was charged with overseeing the office that reviewed 501(c)(4) applications. Initially, the agency told Congress that the majority of these emails were permanently lost due to 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.
At the same time that the House Oversight Committee has been considering Koskinen’s censure, the Judiciary Committee has been considering whether or not he should be impeached and removed from office, something that has happened only nineteen times in American history. Of those nineteen, only one involved the impeachment of a Cabinet level official, and that was the impeachment of William Belknap, who served as Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant and was one of the members of Grant’s cabinet accused of personally profiting from kickbacks related to revenue from trading in Indian territory. Belknap was ultimately acquitted by the Senate, and it seems apparent that this is what would happen with Koskinen since it’s unlikely that there are sufficient votes in the Senate to reach the 2/3 majority required for conviction. In any case, even falling short of impeachment censure could be problematic for Koskinen in that it could cause him to lose his government pension along with other benefits. The Committee’s censure resolution now heads to the full House for a vote, but given the partisan makeup of that body, the outcome seems rather obvious.
Notwithstanding the allegations of I.R.S. foot dragging when it comes to document production, it strikes me that censure and impeachment are wild overreactions to what seems to be little more than a standard dispute between Congress and the Executive Branch. From the evidence I’ve seen, it’s clear that the problems related to record-keeping that led to the apparent loss of many of Lois Lerner’s emails pre-date Koskinen’s time in office and that any affirmative action that might have been taken to wrongfully destroy evidence, if that actually happened, occurred prior to the time that he was named Commissioner. For his part, Koskinen seems to have been trying to do his best to cooperate with the Committee’s requests only to find himself hobbled by bad record-keeping at the agency and other problems well beyond his control. To make him pay the price for the mistakes and potential wrongdoing of others seems massively unfair.
Chaffetz is a douchebag of the highest order. Trump VP pick, maybe?
The Committee has demanded production of well over half a million documents. Each of those documents has to be reviewed in full by a trained attorney to avoid release of protected information that Congress is not entitled to see, and redacted if necessary. This has to be done in addition to the normal duties of those attorneys. Just how long would a reasonable person expect that to take?
Not nearly as unfair of making him pay a price for no wrongdoing at all, which seems to be the point of this exercise. Congress (or at least the Witch Committee) isn’t interested at all in what actually happened, or how to fix it. That’s not the story they want to tell.
“We owe it to the American people to ensure government officials are held accountable for misconduct,” Mr. Chaffetz said. If Koskinen is guilty of misconduct then so should Chaffetz for voting for cutting embassy security funding that led to Benghazi. I mean, since he is making these stretching charges against Koskinen lets stretch out the misconduct and assumptions even further…I think this dude is letting his “chairmanship” go to his head.
“Democrats repeatedly noted that the inspector general of the Treasury, a Republican, and the Justice Department found no evidence of political motivation either in the handling of the emails or in the scrutiny of conservative groups.” And yet Chaffetz, a man who is so against government time wasting and money wasting, continues to waste time and money, but he sleeps in a cot, so I guess that offsets all that. This guy is like the guy at work who hands out his business card to everyone when no one really cares or needs it, but it makes him feel important…
The Republicans love to target and single out who they deem evil doers like blacks wearing hoodies Muslims etc. but when it comes back to them and their evil doings well That’s different huh.
How many of these conservative 501(c)(4) organizations were denied tax exempt status at the height of the scrutiny?
Now, there you go again, asking about facts. Clearly you have missed the point that this is about the principle of the thing…
This – censure and impeachment, is for no reason other than ‘they can’ – is what Republicans do. Republicans are to good governance what the Kardashians are to dignity, reticence and modesty.
In this case they picked an easy target, the IRS, which they would like to tear down all together. Not that they care about the career of a decent guy like John Koskinen
Good God! I realize this whole scandal has been memory-holed, but come on! It’s not “alleged” that the IRS was inappropriately targeting conservative groups. It’s a finding of fact in the Inspector General’s report. The IRS doesn’t dispute it. The head of the IRS at the time was forced to resign because of it. Lois Lerner planted a question at an ABA conference specifically so she could apologize for it. It actually did happen.
LOL, no, this is about what it has always been about – the OPTICS of the thing. They couldn’t give any less of a damn about what actually happened, how to fix it, what to do about it or how it might have affected taxpayers.
What they care about is using it to their political advantage.
These were voluntary applications for tax exempt status, adjudicated under the same criteria as any other application. You are not entitled to equitable distribution with regard to how applications or filings are selected for scrutiny. You are entitled to expect that, once selected, your case will be evaluated on the same criteria as any other selectee.
Moreover, these organizations you’re so concerned about don’t meet the statutory requirements for the exemption. They don’t even come CLOSE to meeting them.
Nor do they care in the least about tax exemptions. They’re interested in one thing and one thing only – using 501(c)(4) status to enable them to hide their donors’ identity.
I do find it interesting that, in the face of a massive effort to misuse the tax code in order to avoid campaign finance laws, the one thing you’re concerned about is that somebody had the temerity to question their applications.
This was the IRS doing its job. If anything, we need a great deal more of this sort of scrutiny, not less.
It would be completely immoral to strip this man of his hard-earned pension and benefits. Then again, this current crop of Republicans has proven itself immoral time and time again.
Chaffetz complaining about anyone else lying is the height of hypocrisy.
when someone tells me they’re republican these days, it tells me they have low intelligence or low ethics. Or both.
Edited to add: or they could just be genuinely good people who know very, very little about the subject.
Stupid House. It’s only illegal when a Republican lies under oath. When a Democrat lies under oath, it’s to prevent the Republicans from gaining some kind of advantage, and that makes it not only all right, but morally imperative.
Jenos, Jenos. There you go again. I find it difficult to take you seriously after these nearly-eight years of Republican bad behavior. You either don’t know, don’t care, or perform some serious mental gymnastics to keep the dissonance at bay. Whatever.
@dennis: The guy lied under oath, oversaw evasion and destruction of documents, and the IRS was flagrantly violating the laws about record retention — it seemed that every time another bunch of documents were subpoenaed, oops! they got accidentally destroyed.
And as much as you are loath to admit it, the House committee here is acting with the full authority of Congress, even though it’s currently controlled by icky Republicans. Just waving your arms and yelling “REPUBLICANS BAD!” doesn’t make it all go away.
According to House Republicans. Do you have any substantiating proof of these allegations?
Which is to say – next to nothing. Congress has no power to indict or to prosecute. If it wants to initiate an impeachment proceeding – in which the accused will have full recourse to legal representation and the fun opportunity to vet each and every one of these charges in front of the Senate (and on TV!), by all means let them roll the dice.
Otherwise, as I noted above, this is political theater.
@Jenos Idanian: Click
@HarvardLaw92: More important than the political theater aspect is the important life lesson:
(A lesson not lost on Ken Starr, I might add.)
@Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:
At this point, I favor just giving them more rope with which they can hang themselves. Nothing says witch hunt like endless investigations that never seem to find a witch.
Echoing McClellan – it’s (trying to) convict people by rumor, hearsay and innuendo. McCarthy would be pleased.
You’re dead on right about this.
I have worked in positions of senior financial management at NPOs, and I can tell you any sentient CFO at an NPO is aware that his organization’s tax exempt status may periodically be reviewed by the IRS. Additionally, the annual independent audit will cover ground that may or may not call into question your tax-exempt status.
I’m sorry for Mr. Koskinen, to have to suffer at the hands of asshole republicans. But the more they do this shit, the more intelligent people will understand that the GOP is the party of immoral idiots, and in the long run, the less power they’ll have to hurt everyone else.
It must be nice to view the law the way you think it should be rather than the way it actually is. The fact is that 501(c)4’s are allowed to be political. They can spend all their time focused on lower taxes or the constitution or abortion rights or environmental protection. They can lobby Congress for legislation they support. They can run televisions ads urging people to “Call Congressman Smith and tell him you support H.B. 100.” They can even endorse/oppose candidates so long as that’s not their primary activity. That’s the law and has been for decades.
Man, I hope when the Democrats win back the Senate, we see some investigations of Republican wrongdoing. Remember when Obama decided to “turn the page” on Bush wrongdoing , hoping the Republicans would respond in kind when shown magnanimity? Boy, was that a major mistake.
It seems the Republicans respect only strength. Could the DOJ or a Senate committee look into abusive House investigations?
No one is asserting that these orgs are not allowed to engage in political activity.
Was was asserted, and which you don’t seem to grasp, is that these orgs are claiming to be something that they aren’t in order to use the tax code to skirt campaign finance laws.
The standard any org attempting to gain 501(c)(4) status must meet is this:
That is in no way vague.
These orgs do not meet this standard, given that virtually all of them engage in nothing BUT political activity, so the correct response here is for the IRS to deny their applications.
They should correctly be classified as 527 orgs, which would give them the exact same tax exempt status as 501(c)(4), but guess what?
527 orgs don’t get donor anonymity. 501(c)(4)’s do, which is the only reason these groups are applying for the status to begin with – it allows them to move money around in contravention of campaign finance laws and it allows deep pockets donor like the Koch’s, etc. to finance as many of these orgs as they like without anybody knowing where the money is coming from.
Repeal that anonymity provision and you’d see applications for 501(c)(4) status dry up completely.
Organizing for the promotion of lower taxes, or the 2nd Amendment or Civil Rights or campaign finance reform or any other inherently political issue is still considered social welfare.
NARAL Pro-Choice America is a 501(c)4. The Sierra Club is a 501(c)4. The National Rifle Association is a 501(c)4. These groups have been around for decades. They are all focused on inherently political issues. They are all perfectly legal. Again, you don’t seem to grasp that the law allows this even if you don’t like it.
It’s not enough to be organized for the promotion of something. Per the statute, they have to be OPERATED exclusively towards that end.
NONE of the orgs that you listed should have 501(c)(4) status, because NONE of them are operated exclusively in pursuit of their stated purpose.
They get by with this because IRS interpretation of the statute decided that exclusively doesn’t mean exclusively.
Are you actually arguing that a federal agency should be permitted to ignore the clear language of a statute and just make up whatever standard it likes?
Heck of a “conservative” you are … 🙂
NARAL Pro-Choice America would argue that they operate exclusively for the promotion of abortion rights. The Sierra Club would argue that they operate exclusively for the promotion of environmental causes. The NRA would argue that they operate exclusively for the promotion of gun rights. Operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare and political activity are not mutually exclusive so the IRS came up with guidelines regarding how much political activity was acceptable in order to maintain a 501(c)4 status. To my knowledge, none of the 300 organizations that were targeted by the IRS, as detailed in the TIGTA report, ran afoul of the established IRS guidelines. The targeting and increased scrutiny of these groups was inappropriate.
I see that we’re pivoting.
Were any of these groups ultimately denied 501(c)(4) status? They all should have been, but I’ll humor you here. How many of them actually WERE denied?
As I explained to you above, there is no right, no reasonable expectation that the criteria utilized to select certain applications for additional scrutiny are equitable with respect to the entire applicant pool.
The sole expectation that you’re entitled to is that, once selected, the examination will be adjudicated under the same criteria / standards as any other application.
Short version? I can legally impose ANY selection criterion I like which doesn’t implicate a protected class for extra examination. As long as I don’t adjudicate those extra examinations using different criteria, I’m golden. For real world examples, consider the criteria utilized to select tax returns for field audits. Helpful hint – they’re not remotely equitable, but they’re entirely legal.
This is what you aren’t getting. The IRS did NOT break the law here. Inappropriate? According to whose standard?
You’re proceeding from a false assumption.
Inappropriate according to the IRS Inspector General’s standard! There’s a freaking report that was released in 2013 detailing all of this. Go read it. Go read Lois Lerner’s response to the planted question at the ABA conference. Here’s my favorite part:
So, no. The IRS can’t impose any selection criteria for extra examination.
And when Vice President Gingrich helps re-start the House Un-American Activities Committee won’t we have fun!
And, of course, Congress has not allocated any additional monies to the IRS to accomplish this task, or lifted the hiring freeze so that they can hire more attorneys to do the work.
So, in the opinion of a Republican IG. Got it …
LOL, no chance of bias there … 🙂
Yea, actually they can, sorry.
Yes, they can. You have no idea what you’re talking about.
Hell no. If they won’t even fully fund tax collection at the IRS, what makes you think they’re going to fund anything else?
In this case, though, it wouldn’t have mattered — the necessary expertise in FOIA, Privacy Act, and the IRC-specific disclosure laws resides in only handful of senior attorneys with decades of experience. You can’t hire them off the street, and you can’t train them up fast enough to help.
I have, on both counts. Lerner’s mistake was in buying into the idea that it’s somehow inappropriate to give extra scrutiny to groups with political slogans in their names when testing whether groups are political.
The IRS has the legal responsibility to screen applicants for compliance with the law. Thanks to their friends in Congress, they are woefully understaffed for that job, so they do triage and use heuristics. This one was actually pretty good. More importantly, their heuristic did not result in any groups being denied 501(c) (4) status who were actually entitled to it.
So where, exactly, is the harm? They did their jobs as best they could with the resources they were given, and got it right. This is a scandal?
For Republican purposes, a scandal is anything you can talk low-info morons into believing is a scandal. By that standard, there is clear proof that this is a scandal.
@Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:
And that he or she doesn’t turn you into a toad.
It is Way pass time the congress / senate and house speaker and the whole Admin. grow some Balls and stand and back the people they swore to serve and protect , We have several COWARDS and Traitors in office as Obama and Hillary and others that are Guilty of Treason and murder , they should have been impeached and arrested and in prison for life , yrs. ago a Traitor would have been shot or hung , We the people have had enough of this sick evil lying Admin. you are going to be Voted OUT , America has become a laughing stock of the world and under Obama we are being destroyed as he wants. The Constitution is the LAW of the land and this Admin. has allowed Obama to walk all over it and do as he pleases, We the people will stand and fight for our rights / freedom , you people swore to honor the Constitution and protect America from domestic and foreign enemies but have NOT , Obama / Hillary are domestic enemies , the Muslims are training in America and waiting to strike and kill all they can , its pass time to kill these training in the USA and Remove all of them from the white house , they are working with Obama to take down America and make America a 3rd. world country and take total control of everyone and everything.
@Benny Tranbarger: Not sure if serious, but with a nym like ‘Benny Tranbarger’, I’m guessing Poe’s Law applies here.
H*ll, just the CapiTaliZAtioN ALOnE…….