Republicans in the U.S. House called for the firing of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, saying the man brought in to turn around the tax agency has lost their trust.
Twenty-one House Republicans signed a letter calling on President Barack Obama to dismiss Koskinen.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a news conference in Washington Monday that Koskinen misled Congress and prevented congressional investigators from getting e-mails that lawmakers requested.
“We will pursue all of our constitutional remedies,” Chaffetz said. “That could potentially include contempt of Congress. That could potentially include impeaching the IRS commissioner himself.”
Koskinen, a 76-year-old with a reputation for turning around troubled public and private organizations, became Internal Revenue Service commissioner in December 2013. Obama brought him in after forcing out acting commissioner Steve Miller in May 2013.
Miller left after the agency said it had improperly given scrutiny to Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. That turned into a two-year series of investigations, including House Republicans’ request for a criminal prosecution of Lois Lerner, the former director of exempt organizations at IRS.
So far, the IRS has spent about $20 million retrieving documents and complying with congressional requests. Multiple investigations have turned up management failures at IRS. The probes have found no links to the White House and little evidence that Lerner or others scrutinized conservatives as part of a politically motivated plot.
But the probes have spawned further probes. Notably, Republicans have been trying to get all of the e-mails sent and received by Lerner, including those on a hard drive that failed in 2011. Republicans suggested that Lerner’s hard drive crash wasn’t a coincidence.
The IRS wasn’t able to retrieve many of the e-mails, some of which turned up after a more extensive search. Republicans blame Koskinen for failing to look hard enough.
They also criticize him for telling them that all of the e-mails would be produced and for failing to prevent the agency from destroying backup tapes after the IRS was supposed to be maintaining documents.
“What John Koskinen has done as the commissioner is really just laugh off this investigation,” said Representative Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican. “I think it’s been an insult to the American people.”
Chaffetz said he is planning further hearings into the content of the e-mails the IRS has produced and that he will pursue this investigation “to the ends of the earth if need be.”
Koskinen has the confidence of Treasury Secretary Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, according to a department statement. The IRS is part of Treasury.
“The record is clear that the IRS and Commissioner Koskinen have been cooperative and truthful with the numerous investigations under way,” the IRS said in a statement. “The agency will continue to cooperate with the committees, support the important oversight role of Congress as well as make additional improvements in our operations and processes.”
Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, declined to comment.
Separately, the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to release its bipartisan report on the IRS in coming weeks.
Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said the call for Koskinen’s ouster was an attempt to divert attention from the Finance report.
He called it a “strange, oddly timed rehashing of conspiracy theories.”
After declaring his outrage in 2013, Obama said last week that what happened at the IRS was the result of a vague law passed by Congress.
“The truth of the matter is that there was not some big conspiracy there,” Obama said during an interview with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.” The “real scandal,” he said, is an underfunded IRS that “cannot go after these folks who are deliberately avoiding tax payments.”
IRS employees were “trying to sort out conflicting demands,” and did so “poorly and stupidly,” Obama said.
Removal from office by impeachment requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which would require at least 13 Democrats.
The House has impeached 19 federal officials in history, and the Senate has removed just eight of those. Impeachment -- or the threat of it -- can prompt officials to resign.
All but four of those impeached were federal judges. The last time the House impeached anyone other than a president or a judge was in 1876, when Secretary of War William Belknap was found not guilty by the Senate in a corruption scandal.