House Mulls Koskinen Impeachment over IRS Scandal

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September 7, 2016; Politico

John Koskinen wasn’t IRS Commissioner in 2013 when Lois Lerner admitted the agency’s exempt organizations (EO) division had selected tax exemption applications from “conservative-sounding” nonprofit organizations for special scrutiny and delayed their processing, in some cases for years. In fact, Koskinen was appointed in part to clean up the scandal’s effects and help move the agency forward. His actions in office have often enraged Congressional investigators who believe he has dragged his feet and even actively obstructed efforts to get to the bottom of the targeting. This frustration led some Republicans to move for Koskinen’s impeachment last year, and that movement is coming to a head as Congress returns from its summer recess.

There are two factions in the House GOP ranks apparently disputing the need and wisdom for impeachment. The conservative House Freedom Caucus is pushing for an impeachment vote, but the more moderate House GOP members and the House leadership have been resisting. Freedom Caucus members are considering introducing a “privileged resolution,” allowing them to bypass the committee hearing process they say has stalled their efforts.

John Koskinen held multiple informal meetings with House Republicans yesterday, making his case. Interestingly, among those escorting Koskinen was Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), former chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one of the IRS scandal’s most vocal investigators. Koskinen’s impeachment may hinge on whether GOP House members believe Koskinen should receive the targeted attention of an impeachment committee investigation prior to a vote, or that his actions as commissioner, including during congressional hearings, are sufficient to warrant impeachment.

A vote for impeachment would be symbolic at best, and bad symbolism at worst. No cabinet member has been impeached since the 19th century. Even if the partisan House GOP majority votes for impeachment, the trial would happen in the U.S. Senate, where, based on current understanding, it would be impossible to obtain the two-thirds vote necessary for conviction. Such an exercise would not only tarnish (or further tarnish) the Republican brand among many voters, it would also represent an uncomfortable lowering of the bar for use of impeachment as a political tool.

Congressional investigations of the IRS targeting scandal haven’t so much ended as they have petered out, with this impeachment threat likely the last gasp. As NPQ has noted, the venue for chasing down the specifics of the scandal has moved to the courts, propelled in large part by nonprofit advocacy groups like Judicial Watch and Cause of Action pursuing freedom of information act (FOIA) requests and suing for redress on behalf of nonprofits still awaiting an exemption ruling from the IRS.—Michael Wyland