House Committee Votes to Censure U.S. IRS Chief Koskinen

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Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen listens to a question from the press after speaking during a luncheon at the National Press Club March 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
  • Republicans say Koskinen defied subpoenas for documents
  • Democrat Cummings says GOP pursuing ‘baseless conspiracies’

A House committee voted Wednesday to censure Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen over Republican claims that he obstructed an investigation into whether his agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

The 23-15 party-line vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee comes before a planned June 22 hearing by the House Judiciary Committee about a resolution to impeach Koskinen. House Republican leaders have not promised floor votes on the proposals, and neither effort is expected to move through the Senate.

“Because of Mr. Koskinen’s misconduct, Americans will never know the truth about how and why their First Amendment rights were violated,” Oversight panel Chairman Jason Chaffetz said. He said Koskinen he deserves to be removed from office as the censure resolution seeks, and also deserves to be impeached by the Judiciary panel.

Censures of administration officials are rare, and generally would have no practical consequences although the resolution pushed by Chaffetz says Koskinen’s pension should be forfeited. Koskinen isn’t the only member of President Barack Obama’s administration to face stringent action in the Republican-led House. In 2012, then-Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt by the full House in a dispute over providing documents related to a botched operation to track gun smuggling.

House Republicans’ decision now to target the head of an agency, and not a cabinet official, shows a willingness to reach more deeply into the Democratic administration.

Chaffetz of Utah is leading the effort to censure Koskinen, saying the commissioner failed to respond to congressional subpoenas. The resolution calls on Koskinen to resign or for Obama to dismiss him.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the panel, said the accusations against Koskinen are “baseless” and that Republicans have wasted three years and $20 million on the IRS investigation. The Justice Department and the IRS’s inspector general have determined that the agency wasn’t unfairly targeting conservative groups, he said.

“You are completely and totally wrong on this one,” Cummings said. He called on Republicans to put their “baseless conspiracies to rest” and stop attacking Koskinen, who he said is an “honorable man.”

Tea Party Groups

Koskinen took over the IRS in 2013 after a scandal in which the agency said it improperly gave scrutiny to conservative Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. He informed Congress in June 2014 that 30,000 e-mails from a key IRS official, Lois Lerner, couldn’t be found. He also said he had learned months earlier that there was a problem with Lerner’s computer.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general later reported that it had recovered many of Lerner’s e-mails.

After the Justice Department notified Congress in October 2015 that it wouldn’t charge Lerner or others involved in the matter, Chaffetz introduced a resolution to impeach the IRS commissioner. In May, he followed up with the censure resolution.

At a Judiciary Committee hearing in May, ranking Democrat John Conyers of Michigan said the proposed articles of impeachment “have been debunked” and face “stiff bipartisan opposition in the House and even worse odds” in a Senate trial. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah has said he doesn’t support impeachment.

Koskinen, a former chairman of Freddie Mac and deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, was confirmed by the Senate to lead the IRS in December 2013 on a 59-36 vote.

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