House panel votes to cen­sure IRS chief for ob­struc­tion Takes first step to­ward his im­peach­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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