House Chairman Threatens Censure of IRS Chief

IRS chief John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill. IRS chief John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

In preparation for a House hearing next week, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel on Wednesday introduced a formal resolution to censure Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen for “misconduct.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, added to his earlier articles of impeachment against the commissioner a resolution that, if passed by the full House, would call for his resignation or removal and the forfeiture of his pension and other federal benefits.

Though it has no power or impact under the Constitution, “censure affords Congress additional consequences to consider in identifying appropriate penalties for the commissioner’s misdeeds,” Chaffetz said. “I am committed to using every tool at my disposal to hold Mr. Koskinen responsible for his offenses toward Congress and toward the American people.”

The move comes a week before the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Koskinen’s degree of cooperation with Congress during the three-year-old investigation of alleged political bias in the IRS’ handling of applications for tax-exempt status by primarily conservative nonprofits.

“I view censure as a precursor to impeachment as it allows the House the opportunity to formally condemn Mr. Koskinen,” Chaffetz said.

House Republicans argue that Koskinen—who was brought into the IRS after the controversy over alleged political bias to set the agency on a new course—is accused of hiding materials that some lawmakers believe would have shed light on the misconduct of now-retired Exempt Organizations head Lois Lerner. The Justice Department, to the consternation of the GOP House members, declined to prosecute Lerner or any other IRS employee, saying “ineffective management is not a crime.”  

Specifically, Chaffetz accused Koskinen of:

  • Failure to comply with a subpoena resulting in destruction of key evidence;
  • Failure to locate and preserve IRS records in accordance with a congressional subpoena and an internal preservation order;
  • Failure to testify truthfully under oath and providing false and misleading information; and,
  • Failure to notify Congress key evidence was missing.

The oversight committee members said Koskinen also falsely testified that the IRS turned over all emails relevant to the congressional investigation, falsely testified emails were unrecoverable once the agency realized on March 4, 2014, that some of Ms. Lerner’s emails were missing, and did not notify Congress the emails were missing until June 2014.

The IRS has not committed to having the agency head appear at next week’s hearing. “Commissioner Koskinen has cooperated with the four congressional investigations triggered by the inspector general’s report three years ago on the handling of applications for determinations by social welfare organizations, and he will continue to do so,” the agency said in a statement to Government Executive.

“In the past, he has noted that the IRS has provided voluminous material to the investigating committees,” the statement said. “In all, Congress has received more than 1.3 million pages of documents. In addition, Koskinen has also said previously that he has testified fully, truthfully and to the best of his ability during his numerous previous congressional hearings on this matter. Koskinen and the IRS workforce remain focused on serving the nation’s taxpayers.”

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