WASHINGTON – A top House Republican introduced an election-year resolution Wednesday censuring the IRS chief, marking the latest step in the GOP’s war against the agency over its treatment of conservative organizations.
The four-page resolution calls for the resignation or firing of John Koskinen, claiming the commissioner has failed to co-operate with a congressional investigation of the agency. It accuses him of conduct “incompatible with his duties and inconsistent with the trust and confidence placed in him as an officer of the United States.”
The measure by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is nonbinding and would not force him from the job if the House were to approve it.
But it voices the longtime hostility of many conservative groups and lawmakers toward the tax-collecting agency. Their enmity escalated in 2013 when the IRS conceded that it had subjected right-leaning tea party groups to excessive scrutiny when examining their applications for tax-exempt status.
Democrats have derided multiple congressional GOP investigations of the agency as ungrounded partisan attacks aimed at stirring up conservative voters. Last year, the Justice Department ended a two-year investigation, saying no IRS official would face criminal charges and that it had uncovered no evidence that agency officials acted out of political bias against conservative groups.
The White House cited cuts that Republicans have imposed on the IRS budget in recent years. “If they spent half as much time trying to make sure that the IRS got the money that they needed to do their job as they do undermining the commissioner of the IRS, the American people would be better served,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on Chaffetz’s committee, said in a written statement: “House Republican efforts to impeach or censure the IRS commissioner are exercises in partisanship and a total waste of time and money.” He said Republican investigations have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars “chasing false political conspiracy theories.”
Chaffetz proposed his measure a week before the House Judiciary Committee plans to begin hearings on whether to impeach Koskinen, as conservatives have demanded. In a written statement, Chaffetz said he considers his resolution “a precursor to impeachment, as it allows the House the opportunity to formally condemn Mr. Koskinen.”
The prospects of forcing Koskinen from office this year seem remote. GOP leaders are focused on using Congress’ dwindling, pre-election legislative calendar to finish must-pass spending bills, and few think the Senate would be able to muster the two-thirds majority constitutionally required to remove a federal office-holder.
President Barack Obama appointed Koskinen to take over the IRS in December 2013 after many top officials left the agency following the uproar. His term expires in November 2017.
Chaffetz’s resolution accuses Koskinen of failing to provide congressional investigators with subpoenaed evidence, not testifying truthfully and taking three months to reveal to Congress that emails considered important to the probe were missing.
Several congressional committees, including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Chaffetz leads, have investigated.
Koskinen has co-operated with past congressional investigations “and he will continue to do so,” the IRS said in a statement provided by agency spokesman Dean Patterson. IRS officials have said they have provided investigators with more than 1 million pages of documents and testified at more than 30 congressional hearings.
A flash point has been now-retired Lois Lerner, who headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status.
In 2014, the IRS disclosed that it had lost emails to and from Lerner that GOP congressional investigators were trying to acquire. Chaffetz’s resolution says that while Koskinen was in charge, 422 IRS backup computer tapes containing up to 24,000 of Lerner’s emails were destroyed.
Last July, a report by IRS Inspector General Russell George concluded that the documents were destroyed by mistake, not an agency effort to withhold information from Congress.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.