IRS chief John Koskinen

IRS chief John Koskinen Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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House Oversight Republicans Vote to Censure IRS Chief

Democrats defending Koskinen call the vote a “travesty” that dishonors the committee.

In the latest in their bid to impeach the Internal Revenue Commissioner, Republicans on the House Oversight panel on Wednesday used a business meeting to approve a resolution 23-15 “condemning and censuring” John Koskinen, over the objections of committee Democrats.

The resolution expresses the sense of the House that Koskinen “engaged in a pattern of conduct inconsistent with the trust and confidence placed in him.” It urges his “resignation or removal” and would require him to forfeit his government pension and other benefits.

The vote on an amended resolution, which Democrats tried to head off, comes a week before the House Judiciary Committee plans a second hearing—Koskinen declined to appear at the first one—on accusations that the commissioner failed to comply with a congressional subpoena that resulted in destruction of key evidence, made false statements during sworn congressional testimony, and did not promptly notify Congress of missing emails from former Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organizations chief Lois Lerner. (Now retired, Lerner was at the center of the three-year controversy over alleged political bias against conservative nonprofits.)

“We owe it to the American people to ensure their government officials are held accountable for misconduct,” said Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who earlier introduced a resolution to impeach Koskinen. “When there’s a duly issued subpoena, you have to comply with it. When you come to Congress, you must testify truthfully.”

Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said, “it really, sincerely pains me when we press forward with bogus issues,” arguing that the accusations that Koskinen deceived Congress were rejected by the Justice Department, the Republican-appointed inspector general who did the audits of the IRS’s  mishandling of applications for tax-exempt status, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Finance Committee who, along with House leaders, has declined to endorse the House panel’s impeachment moves.

“You ignore the fact that Commissioner Koskinen testified before us based on what he knew at the time,” Cummings told Republicans. He also scolded Chaffetz for creating on the panel’s website “a hit list to knock off federal officials….and publicly defaming a public servant who came out of retirement to take the helm of an agency in turmoil… It is a travesty.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, countered by saying Koskinen waited four months to notify Congress after he learned that IRS clerks had destroyed 421 backup tapes that contained possibly 24,000 emails. “Having those tapes would have helped this investigation,” Jordan said. “Of course it’s deception.”

Chaffetz added that the IRS informed the White House and Treasury Department of the destroyed backup tapes but not Congress.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., criticized the panel for what he called inaccuracies in the resolution’s description of what Koskinen did and when. “He didn’t deceive, he didn’t mislead, he didn’t lie,” Connolly said. “For once, can we just once put aside partisanship? These are harsh judgments that are dishonorable. It will be seen as black mark on this committee and this Congress.” 

At the coming June 22 hearing, the House Judiciary Committee will hear from outside experts on the findings presented by the Oversight panel.