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House GOP Threatens Contempt Vote for IRS Head

Chaffetz announces next phase in Congress's IRS investigation (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Chaffetz announces next phase in Congress's IRS investigation (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen is the latest Obama administration official House Republicans want fired — or, in Koskinen’s case, held in contempt of Congress, or even impeached.  

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee put out the proverbial call for Koskinen’s head Monday, alleging he lied under oath and oversaw the destruction of key records that might have shone light on the IRS’s improper scrutiny of conservative nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status.  

“Throughout his tenure, Commissioner Koskinen obstructed … Congressional investigations,” 21 committee Republicans, including Chairman Jason Chaffetz, wrote to President Barack Obama in a 30-page letter dated July 27. “His obstruction takes the form of failure to comply with a congressional subpoena, failure to testify truthfully, and a failure to preserve and produce up to 24,000 emails relevant to the investigation.”  

They continued: “Commissioner Koskinen bears responsibility for a number of actions that may have permanently deprived the American people of a complete understanding of the IRS scandal. In the course of doing so, he misled Congress and acted with complete disregard for Congress’s efforts to find out the truth.”  

House Republicans have been spearheading the investigation of alleged misconduct at the IRS since May 2013, and Chaffetz made it clear at a news conference Monday the probe wouldn’t be ending anytime soon.  

“It is imperative that this committee pursue all constitutional remedies that may include contempt, that may even include impeachment,” Chaffez, flanked by fellow committee Republicans, told reporters.  

“During the August break and into September,” he continued, “we’re going to pursue all those potential remedies. That’s not the end goal, but it is one of the things at our disposal that we’re actively exploring. … I am trying to share with you our unwavering commitment to get to the truth.”  

When asked about the timeline for a conclusion to the investigation, now 26 months in length, Chaffetz said, “I wish we could get it done tomorrow.”  

Asked to confirm whether committee Republicans were actively exploring holding Koskinen in contempt of Congress regardless of whether Obama agrees to remove him, Chaffetz replied, “Correct.”  

Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official at the center of the controversy, formally resigned as the director of the Exempt Organizations unit in September 2013, and was still held in contempt by the full House in May 2014 for her repeated refusals to testify before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  

Koskinen was installed at the helm of the IRS at the end of 2013, his nomination confirmed by the then-Democrat-controlled Senate. He was placed in charge of the agency in the months after revelations of possible misconduct in Lerner’s division, with expectations he would re-establish trust and a standard of transparency.  

Republicans on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee contend Koskinen has failed to meet these expectations by providing false testimony to Congress and presiding over the destruction of important emails.  

GOP lawmakers see it as part of a trend: While Lerner has insisted her computer hard drive crashed through no fault of her own, many lawmakers believe she destroyed it on purpose to hide incriminating evidence.  

“To destroy evidence that is either a preservation order and subpoena is either an obstruction of justice at worst, or at best, gross, gross negligence,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said of Koskinen. “Either way, you’re not fit to continue your duties as commissioner.”  

“Restore faith for liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said.  

Chaffetz said at the conclusion of the Monday news conference he had alerted the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., that he would be making an announcement about the IRS investigation. He stressed the two men have a positive working relationship.  

Despite that, the announcement is sure to add kindling to a fierce partisan battle ongoing for the last two years, with Republicans calling it a fight for Americans’ first amendment rights and Democrats dismissing it as a GOP political witch hunt.  

“This is a strange, oddly-timed rehashing of conspiracy theories that were debunked by the Inspector General himself — who concluded in a report to the Oversight Committee just last month that there is no evidence to substantiate these claims,” Cummings said in a statement Monday. “There is no new information here.  

“The bottom line is that the Inspector General found no evidence to back-up Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement, or intentional destruction of evidence,” Cummings went on. “Calls for Commissioner Koskinen to step down are nothing more than a manufactured Republican political crisis based on allegations that have already been debunked.”


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