Freedom Caucus Ups Pressure to Impeach IRS Commissioner

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

Last Ju­ly, just as the House was pre­par­ing to break for sum­mer re­cess, Rep. Mark Mead­ows shocked his col­leagues by of­fer­ing a mo­tion to oust then-Speak­er John Boehner.

This year, Mead­ows and his House Free­dom Caucus col­leagues may be cel­eb­rat­ing that an­niversary by of­fer­ing a mo­tion to claim the head of an­oth­er sit­ting gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial. The group is act­ively dis­cuss­ing bring­ing up a priv­ileged mo­tion just be­fore the mid-Ju­ly break for­cing a vote on the im­peach­ment of IRS Com­mis­sion­er John Koskin­en.

The Free­dom Caucus has been push­ing GOP lead­ers for an im­peach­ment vote for months. In a private meet­ing earli­er this year, Mead­ows and Free­dom Caucus Chair­man Jim Jordan told Speak­er Paul Ry­an that they would con­sider the priv­ileged mo­tion if the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee did not hold hear­ings on the is­sue.

House lead­ers may have thought that agree­ing to hear­ings took the mo­tion tac­tic off the table, but the Free­dom Caucus does not see it that way. Now that the hear­ings came and went, Jordan and his crew are again eye­ing the priv­ileged mo­tion in or­der to force the is­sue to the House floor.

“We have nev­er giv­en up on push­ing as hard as we can and in any way we can to push im­peach­ment,” Jordan said in an in­ter­view Tues­day. “We are look­ing to per­suade our lead­er­ship to move for­ward with im­peach­ment be­cause that’s what’s war­ran­ted.”

Ry­an—like Boehner be­fore him—has been reti­cent to move ahead on im­peach­ment. Lead­ers be­lieve that there is not a fool­proof case against Koskin­en, that an im­peach­ment vote would be un­ne­ces­sar­ily par­tis­an and ac­ri­mo­ni­ous, and that the Sen­ate would not move for­ward even if the House voted to im­peach. On top of that, lead­ers think it would set a dan­ger­ous pre­ced­ent; no ap­poin­ted ex­ec­ut­ive branch of­fi­cial has been im­peached since 1876.

Koskin­en is ac­cused of al­low­ing or or­der­ing the de­struc­tion of backup tapes that some Re­pub­lic­ans say con­tained emails prov­ing that his pre­de­cessor, Lois Lern­er, tar­geted con­ser­vat­ive groups for in­creased scru­tiny when they ap­plied for tax-ex­empt status. They also say he gave false testi­mony, though Demo­crats con­tend that all of those al­leg­a­tions are over­blown.

The Free­dom Caucus has made the im­peach­ment a cru­sade. If lead­ers de­cline to move for­ward, or if they only move ahead with a re­l­at­ively tooth­less cen­sure of Koskin­en, a mem­ber of the group could de­cide to bring up the mo­tion.

“Let’s say hy­po­thet­ic­ally lead­er­ship doesn’t want to go that far. At some point, wheth­er lead­er­ship agrees or not, a priv­ileged mo­tion comes to the floor,” said one Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, speak­ing an­onym­ously to dis­cuss their strategy. “If it’s done right be­fore the break, it be­comes a cam­paign is­sue over the sum­mer and we come back and either we vote to im­peach or we vote to keep him.”

Any mem­ber can bring up a priv­ileged mo­tion with no no­tice. Once it is brought up, lead­ers have 72 le­gis­lat­ive hours to hold a vote on the un­der­ly­ing is­sue. If the mo­tion is brought up just be­fore re­cess, lead­ers would have un­til the House re­turns to act un­less they choose to bring the mo­tion up right away.

A Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee aide said that since the two hear­ings they held, the pan­el is re­flect­ing on their op­tions and wheth­er Con­gress should take fur­ther ac­tion. One of those ac­tions could be a vote to cen­sure Koskin­en, but there is no guar­an­tee that would sat­is­fy all of the mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus.

Mead­ows, for his part, said that he is hold­ing out hope that Ry­an and Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte will re­port an im­peach­ment res­ol­u­tion out of com­mit­tee and onto the House floor.

“There’s really been no dis­cus­sions between lead­er­ship and mem­bers of the Free­dom Caucus that would sug­gest we’re go­ing any dir­ec­tion oth­er than pro­ceed­ing ahead with Chair­man Good­latte,” Mead­ows said.

Win­ning an im­peach­ment vote may be a tall or­der. Demo­crats say an in­spect­or gen­er­al looked in­to the al­leg­a­tions and found mid-level em­ploy­ees des­troyed the tapes, not Koskin­en. And there is no guar­an­tee that the Free­dom Caucus could con­vince their fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans that the al­leged mis­con­duct rises to the level of an im­peach­able of­fense.

Of course, those same Re­pub­lic­ans would be hard-pressed to de­fend the IRS when the agency re­mains deeply un­pop­u­lar with their base. Polit­ic­ally en­dangered Demo­crats could find them­selves in an awk­ward polit­ic­al po­s­i­tion with the vote as well. If the mo­tion is brought just be­fore re­cess, the vote wouldn’t oc­cur un­til Septem­ber, just two months be­fore Elec­tion Day.

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