IRS Commissioner Faces Impeachment Vote over Nonprofit Targeting Scandal

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September 13, 2016; U.S. News & World Report

Yesterday, Representatives John Fleming (R-LA) and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced a privileged resolution on the U.S. House floor to force a vote on the impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Some GOP legislators, including the conservative House Freedom Caucus, have been frustrated with their own leadership’s refusal to make Koskinen’s impeachment a priority and are using the resolution to force the issue.

The use of a privileged resolution allowed the IRS Commissioner’s impeachment to be introduced without first going through a hearing process by the House Judiciary Committee, as is usual for the highly unusual practice of impeachment. Under House rules, the resolution must be acted upon by the full House within two days of its being published in the Congressional Record (presumably later today). The House GOP caucus will discuss the resolution at its regular weekly meeting on Thursday. House Democrats have not addressed yesterday’s events publicly—a sign, perhaps, that prospects for a successful impeachment are dim. If impeachment results in a conviction, Koskinen would be removed from office as IRS Commissioner.

The last time an executive branch official other than the president was impeached was in 1876, though technically William Belknap had resigned as Secretary of War before the House formally impeached him. In fact, his acquittal on embezzlement and corruption charges was partly due to some senators’ concerns about Congress’s capacity to impeach a former Cabinet member.

As NPQ noted recently, impeaching the IRS Commissioner is highly unlikely to be successful. Even if a majority of House members vote to impeach, the U.S. Senate would need to conduct the trial. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote, which would require about 20 Democrats to vote in favor even if all Republicans also supported Koskinen’s conviction. The calendar also works against impeachment, as elections are less than two months away and many senators will be at home campaigning. If a trial didn’t happen this year, it’s unclear whether an impeachment resolution passed by the current House could be tried by the Senate in the next Congress. Typically, legislation not acted upon in a two-year Congressional period needs to be reintroduced in the next Congress.

Koskinen visited Capitol Hill last week to meet informally with Republican House members. He reportedly encouraged that, if necessary, impeachment be brought through the traditional House Judiciary Committee hearing process to allow him to prepare and present a case against his impeachment.

Koskinen was not IRS Commissioner in 2010 during the events that have come to be known as the IRS scandal. He was not IRS Commissioner in May 2013 when Exempt Organizations director Lois Lerner publicly admitted and apologized for the agency’s targeting of exemption applications from groups with conservative-sounding names (collectively referred to internally as “Tea Party cases”), delaying application processing and subjecting the groups to “inappropriate” questioning by IRS officials, according to an inspector general’s report. Koskinen was sworn in as Commissioner in December 2013 and tasked with dealing with the scandal’s fallout, including multiple concurrent congressional and other federal investigations.

The basis for impeachment stems from what impeachment supporters say is Koskinen’s “making ‘a series of false and misleading statements’ to House investigators and failing to comply with congressional subpoenas for records, including the emails of ex-IRS official Lois Lerner, whose office was accused of leading the targeting,” according to U.S. News. Some legislators were also offended by what they viewed as the IRS Commissioner’s contemptuous and disrespectful demeanor during investigation hearings, reinforcing their perceptions that Koskinen wasn’t taking the IRS scandal or the search for answers—and culprits—seriously.—Michael Wyland