In this June 2, 2015, file photo, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing examining the IRS data breach. The IRS is joining with … more >
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz began the impeachment process against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen Tuesday, accusing him of misleading the public and destroying documents that were being sought under a congressional subpoena.
It’s the latest move in the battle over tea party targeting at the tax agency, and comes less than a week after the Justice Department issued a report finding no criminal behavior in the IRS’s decision to subject conservative groups to intrusive scrutiny.
It was unclear how far the resolution would go, in a Congress already preoccupied with so many other fights and with little more than a year to go in President Obama’s tenure.
The impeachment resolution says the IRS knew Ms. Lerner’s messages were missing, due to a reported computer hard drive crash, as early as February 2014, but didn’t notify Congress until June — while the backup tapes were destroyed in March.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said the accusations against Mr. Koskinen were baseless.
“This ridiculous resolution will demonstrate nothing but the Republican obsession with diving into investigative rabbit holes that waste tens of millions of taxpayer dollars while having absolutely no positive impact on a single American,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Calling this resolution a ‘stunt’ or a ‘joke’ would be insulting to stunts and jokes.”
For its part, the IRS released a brief unsigned statement: “The IRS vigorously disputes the allegations in the resolution. We have fully cooperated with all of the investigations.”
Hours before the impeachment resolution was introduced, Mr. Koskinen testified to the Senate, saying he’s taken steps to try to clean up the mess left by the targeting scandal.
“The chain of command all the way down has changed. There are new people that have gone through, and we’ve pursued appropriate disciplinary review as needed,” Mr. Koskinen said.
He also acknowledged his agency is still holding up a “handful” of tea party groups’ applications — including one that’s been waiting for nearly six years, The Washington Times reported earlier this week.
And he said he hopes to have new rules to limit political activities of nonprofit organizations in place before the 2016 election, raising the specter of another major fight over the tax agency and political targeting.
Mr. Koskinen took over at the IRS after the May 2013 revelation that agency employees singled tea party and conservative groups out for special scrutiny, asking intrusive questions and delaying their applications for nonprofit status well beyond reasonable times.
The Obama administration said part of the problem was that the rules were too confusing, leaving the nonprofit groups and IRS auditors uncertain about what activity was allowed.
The IRS has already tried one rewrite of those rules that would have prohibited nonprofit groups from conducting voter registration drives or hosting candidate forums. Overwhelming public opposition forced Mr. Koskinen to nix that proposal, but he said Tuesday he is going to try again.