IRS chief tells House panel he does not de­serve im­peach­ment

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON >> IRS Com­mis­sioner John Kosk­i­nen ex­pressed re­gret to Congress on Wed­nes­day for his agency’s past mis­treat­ment of tea party groups, but said he has co­op­er­ated with con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors and does not de­serve to be im­peached.

The IRS chief made the re­marks at a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on a drive by hard-line con­ser­va­tives to oust Kosk­i­nen. Their im­peach­ment res­o­lu­tion ac­cuses him of ly­ing to law­mak­ers, ig­nor­ing sub­poe­nas and over­see­ing an agency that de­stroyed emails as Congress in­ves­ti­gated how the IRS sub­jected tea party groups seek­ing tax ex­emp­tions to harsh in­ves­ti­ga­tions years ago.

The agency has apol­o­gized for its ac­tions and Kosk­i­nen has said he’s done noth­ing wrong. Gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors have found no ev­i­dence that Kosk­i­nen or the IRS pur­posely de­stroyed ev­i­dence or that the agency’s ac­tions were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

“I did noth­ing to im­pede the op­er­a­tion of the Congress,” Kosk­i­nen, speak­ing un­der oath, told the law­mak­ers.

Be­sides solid op­po­si­tion from Democrats, the push has di­vided Repub­li­cans, won no back­ing from GOP lead­ers and has no chance of gar­ner­ing the votes Congress would need to oust him.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Good­latte, R-Va., said the IRS en­gaged in “a po­lit­i­cal plan to si­lence the voices of groups rep­re­sent­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans.” He said Kosk­i­nen is fac­ing “very se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions.”

But Rep. John Cony­ers of Michi­gan, the panel’s top Demo­crat, said Repub­li­cans were en­gaged in “par­ti­san at­tacks cloaked in the im­peach­ment process” that he said” are doomed from the start.”

Some Democrats tried scor­ing their own po­lit­i­cal points by ask­ing Kosk­i­nen about GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump.

Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, DN.Y., asked if peo­ple un­der IRS au­dit are free to re­lease their tax re­turns, a sit­u­a­tion Trump has as­serted in re­fus­ing to re­lease his forms. Kosk­i­nen said such tax­pay­ers can re­lease their re­turns.

Nadler also asked if some­one can use money from a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion to buy a por­trait or a foot­ball hel­met au­to­graphed by for­mer quar­ter­back Tim Te­bow or to pay fees from le­gal dis­putes. Re­ports have said money from the Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion has been used for those pur­poses.

Kosk­i­nen said, gen­er­ally, char­i­ta­ble money shouldn’t be used to ben­e­fit some­one who runs a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion. He de­clined to com­ment on spe­cific de­tails.

The IRS chief told law­mak­ers he’s been truth­ful and has pro­vided all the doc­u­ments he could to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. He said im­peach­ing him would be “im­proper.”

With­out be­ing spe­cific, he also con­ceded: “The truth is that we did not suc­ceed in pre­serv­ing all of the in­for­ma­tion re­quested and some of my tes­ti­mony later proved mis­taken. I re­gret both of those fail­ings.”

Kosk­i­nen told law­mak­ers in June 2014 that no emails had been de­stroyed since con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions be­gan. One year later, Kosk­i­nen learned that backup tapes con­tain­ing nu­mer­ous emails had been erased by IRS work­ers in Martins­burg, West Vir­ginia, in March of 2014.

“The old mid­night shift guys in Martins­burg ex­cuse,” scoffed Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ohio, leader of the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus, which is push­ing im­peach­ment.

Many GOP law­mak­ers want to avoid an im­peach­ment showdown in the shadow of Novem­ber’s elec­tions, fear­ing it could alien­ate in­de­pen­dents who could con­sider the ef­fort overly par­ti­san and con­fronta­tional.

Last week, mem­bers of the Free­dom Cau­cus agreed to Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing after drop­ping plans to force an im­me­di­ate House im­peach­ment vote. Cau­cus mem­bers con­ceded they would have likely lost.

How­ever, one law­maker in that group, Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan., has not ruled out forc­ing an im­peach­ment vote be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tions.

In May 2013, the IRS con­ceded that dur­ing the 2010 and 2012 elec­tions, it sub­jected con­ser­va­tive groups seek­ing tax ex­emp­tions to ex­ces­sively harsh ex­am­i­na­tions. Many groups with those tax ex­emp­tions play ma­jor roles in po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, and they are not re­quired to re­veal donors.

Kosk­i­nen joined the agency in De­cem­ber 2013, after the im­proper ac­tions oc­curred.

A fo­cus of those in­ves­ti­ga­tions was Lois Lerner, who had led the IRS of­fice that pro­cesses ap­pli­ca­tions for tax ex­empt sta­tus. She re­fused to an­swer law­mak­ers’ ques­tions and later re­tired. In June 2014, the IRS told Congress that it lost an un­known num­ber of Lerner’s emails when her hard drive crashed in 2011.

Then in June 2015, the IRS in­spec­tor gen­eral said the agency had ac­ci­den­tally erased 422 backup tapes in March 2014 that could have had up to 24,000 of Lerner’s emails.

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