A single House member on Tuesday set the wheels in motion for a possible vote to impeach the Internal Revenue commissioner, a move long sought by a group within the Republican conference but which the leadership may not embrace.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., backed by allies in the House Freedom Caucus, took to the floor to announce his intent to introduce the impeachment resolution as a privileged motion—meaning he can offer it even though it has not gone through committee. House Resolution 828 begins, “Resolved, that John Andrew Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the Senate…”
Three years after the controversy broke over the IRS’ extra scrutiny given to mostly conservative nonprofits applying for tax-exempt status, the movement for a rare impeachment of a sub-Cabinet official cites claims that Koskinen “failed in his duty to respond to lawfully issued congressional subpoenas” and “engaged in a pattern of deception that demonstrates his unfitness to serve as commissioner.” Those accusations stem from the timing of Koskninen’s acknowledgment to Congress that back-up tapes containing emails from former IRS Exempt Organizations division chief Lois Lerner were destroyed by technicians.
Both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee have held hearings on the subject, but neither passed such an impeachment resolution (the Oversight panel voted to censure him).
Fleming in a press release said Koskinen—who was not at the IRS when the controversy unfolded but was sworn in in December 2013—“was appointed to ‘restore the public trust.’ In reality, he continued the pattern of stonewalling and obstruction,” Fleming said. He acknowledged that, “to date, no agency head has been impeached by Congress. Despite the lack of precedent, it is clear Congress should be doing more to hold agencies accountable, not less.”
Fleming’s move obligates the House leadership to respond. As noted in the Congressional Record, “the chair will not at this point determine whether the resolution constitutes a question of privilege. That determination will be made at the time designated for consideration of the resolution.”
Koskinen last week made the rounds among House Republicans seeking to explain himself and head off impeachment. On Sept. 8, his attorneys at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP wrote to the chair and ranking members of the Judiciary Committee seeking to dispel an impression that Koskinen visited Capitol Hill to evade the formal impeachment process, according to a report by Paul Streckfus, editor of the EO Tax Journal.
“If this matter is to proceed further, Commissioner Koskinen has been and is willing to participate in this committee’s traditional process for investigating the potential impeachment of executive branch officials, including submitting testimony and answering questions under oath,” the letter said. The attorneys stressed that “regular order” and “due process” would allow for him to testify, present witnesses and cross examine accusers, whose facts as stated are at odds with the official findings of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Justice Department. “These facts may not be known to some members, however, as neither the inspector general nor the Justice Department have as of yet been asked to testify or provide evidence in impeachment proceedings regarding their findings,” the attorneys said.
Democrats have long opposed talk of impeachment, as have some Republicans who point out that even if the resolution passed the House, the odds of it gaining a two-thirds majority in the Senate are slim.
Tom Burger, executive director of the Professional Managers Association, said, “I would like to express our continued support for the commissioner who, in spite of unrelenting political attacks, remains committed in his efforts to heal the IRS. Commissioner Koskinen, who chose to forgo enjoying his retirement to 'volunteer' to work in service of the American people, has done an outstanding job despite the difficult challenges he has faced.
“These politically-motived attacks on the integrity of the IRS workforce and its leaders only serve to chip away at the American public’s faith in the agency’s ability to effectively run the tax system as we know it, he said in a statement. “What is most unfortunate is that those in Congress who are pushing forward with these impeachment proceedings fail to see the negative impact it has on the morale of the agency and its dedicated employees.”