Group of House Republicans Implores Trump to Fire IRS Chief

IRS chief John Koskinen IRS chief John Koskinen Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The names on the House Republican letter now number 55. They’ve asked President Trump to accomplish what they were unable to do in the past Congress: defenestrate the Obama-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service.

“The consideration of the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in the House in late 2016 was a clear indication that Congress and the American people have no confidence in Commissioner Koskinen or his ability to discharge his duties,” began the Jan. 30 letter to the White House from the House Republican Study Group led by Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.

“Congressional investigations, hearings and actions have shown that Commissioner Koskinen misled Congress, obstructed investigations into the IRS, and failed to comply with congressional subpoenas,” they said, harking back to the dispute over the tax agency’s alleged political targeting of conservative nonprofits that erupted in 2013. “Commissioner Koskinen’s willful deception and obstructionism has only further eroded any remaining confidence.”

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Last Thursday, the right-leaning outlet Newsmax broached the topic with Press Secretary Sean Spicer, noting a report in Politico that some House Republicans at their recent retreat in Philadelphia had asked Vice President Mike Pence to look into Koskinen’s future and he agreed. But Spicer said, "I have nothing to update you on.”

That inquiry came just days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Hill that he agreed on the desirability of ousting Koskinen, who was brought in by President Obama in December 2013 to reform the IRS and whose term expires this November. “I think he’s been a disaster and I’d be shocked if we don’t have a new one.”  (A McConnell spokesman told Government Executive on Monday that the Senate leader stands by that position.)

But senators such as Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Speaker Paul Ryan have not warmed to the plan to end Koskinen’s tenure early. And the Trump people may be waiting for a confirmation vote on Steven Mnuchin, their nominee for secretary of the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS.

At his Jan. 19 Senate committee hearing, Mnuchin surprised observers by saying that IRS actually needs a larger staff, rather than the reductions the agency has undergone for the past five years. “I can assure you that the president-elect understands the concept of 'we add people, we make money,'" Mnuchin said. “That’s a very quick conversation with Donald Trump.”

Koskinen himself has said he would be willing to stay on and work during the Trump administration, telling a Bloomberg reporter in December that he could help on the technical details of tax reform, for example. He told Tax Notes on Jan. 27 that he has been focused on ensuring a smooth succession and hopes the Trump team names the next IRS commissioner no later than April or May, as reported by tax-exempt newsletter editor Paul Streckfus.

"The commissioner remains focused on the important tax administration work being done at the IRS, including a successful start to the nation's tax season," the IRS said in a statement to Government Executive Monday. 

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