House panel votes to censure IRS chief for obstruction Takes first step toward his impeachment
Saying nothing has changed at the IRS, House Republicans took the first steps toward impeaching agency Commissioner John Koskinen on last Wednesday, with the Oversight Committee voting to censure him for thwarting the investigation into tea party targeting.
The 23-15 party-line vote shows the deep tension underlying the move, which is just the first step on a long path that’s unlikely to result in Mr. Koskinen’s removal, but could leave a permanent dent on his reputation as a straight-shooting turnaround artist.
“Mr. Koskinen should face the ultimate punishment,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican and panel chairman who has led the push for impeachment.
The accusations stem from the IRS’s failure to discover and preserve former senior executive Lois G. Lerner’s emails after she was implicated in the targeting scandal. He did not report her computer hard drive crash until months after it was known to his staff, and he failed to preserve backup tapes that stored those emails — even though he testified that he had done everything possible to track down the messages.
The emails were all subject to a congressional subpoena requiring that they be preserved.
Democrats said the push for censure or impeachment was an overreach, saying Mr. Koskinen wasn’t trying to mislead Congress.
“You completely disregard the difference between a misstatement and a lie,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
The GOP censure resolution calls on Mr. Koskinen to resign his post or to be fired. Republicans also said he should be forced to give up his pension.
Impeachment would be a step further: If impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, which requires a two-thirds vote, he would be immediately removed from office. That is unlikely, giving Democrats’ support for Mr. Koskinen.
Several investigations have concluded that the IRS did target groups for their political beliefs, pulling their nonprofit status applications out of the usual processing and delaying them — in some cases years beyond the reasonable period for approval — and asking intrusive questions.
But none of the investigations have connected the targeting to orders from the White House or other top political appointees.
Mr. Koskinen, who earned a reputation as a top government troubleshooter, was brought into the IRS in late 2013 to clean up the agency, but immediately ran into trouble complying with Congress’s demands for information — particularly about Ms. Lerner.
He testified to Congress that his staff was going to great lengths to preserve Ms. Lerner’s emails, which were subject to several preservation orders and subpoenas. But his staff knew as of February 2014 that some of her messages were lost in a hard drive crash, and alerted the White House, but didn’t tell Congress until May 2014.
In the meantime, more than 400 backup tapes that contained some of the messages were destroyed.
Other tapes were found by investigators from the inspector general’s office. They said when they arrived at the IRS’s computer facility in West Virginia, they found nobody from headquarters had ever asked for the tapes.
Still, the investigators testified that they found no evidence of an intentional criminal conspiracy — just elevated levels of incompetence.
Republicans, though, said those excuses wouldn’t be good enough for a taxpayer facing a subpoena or summons from the IRS, so they shouldn’t be good enough for Mr. Koskinen.
“You would never, ever get away with destroying documents that were under subpoena by the IRS,” Mr. Chaffetz said.
Tea party groups cheered the vote but said Republicans must go further and pursue impeachment.
The House voted last week to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the first step toward impeachment, for thwarting the investigation into his agency’s tea party targeting.