IRS Commissioner John Koskinen expressed "regret" to Congress on Wednesday for his agency’s past mistreatment of tea party groups, but ahead of a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, the top IRS official said he has cooperated with congressional investigators "and does not deserve to be impeached."
In his prepared remarks, Koskinen said that impeaching him would be "improper" adding that "it would create disincentives for many good people to serve" not to mention that his impeachment would "slow the pace of reform and progress at the IRS."
Ostensibly he was refering to reform whereby conservative groups are no longer targeted by the IRS under due political pressure.
His request to remain at the IRS took place even as Koskinen acknowledged that the IRS bungled tea party applications, and that he himself gave wrong information to Congress. As the Washington Examiner reported earlier, at a hearing designed to lay the ground for his possible impeachment, Koskinen pulled the John Stumpf defense, suggesting he was let down by his subordinates, who allowed hundreds of backup tapes to be destroyed, losing tens of thousands of emails from former senior executive Lois Lerner.
It is the loss of those emails, even as they were under a subpoena issued by Congress, that has landed Mr. Koskinen in the hot seat, with conservative Republicans demanding he be ousted from office for his behavior. Koskinen in 2014 testified that all of the information was being preserved, but now says that was faulty information and he, too, was misinformed.
Impeachment proponents say that Koskinen failed to comply with a subpoena for communications to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner, since back-up tapes containing Lerner’s emails were erased. They also allege that Koskinen made false and misleading statements to Congress about the tapes and emails.
Koskinen said that he testified based on his knowledge at the time and asked the IRS to comply fully with Congress. However, he acknowledged on Wednesday that some information was not preserved and that some of his testimony later turned out to be inaccurate, according to The Hill.
“I regret both of those failings,” he said. “I can also tell you that, with the benefit of hindsight, even closer communication with Congress would have been advisable.... I accept that it is up to you to judge my overall record, but I believe impeachment would be improper,” Mr. Koskinen told the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the panel, however, offered few clues about whether he might throw his support behind the impeachment effort.
The IRS chief flatly denied that he gave orders for the backup tapes to be deleted, saying he had actually issued orders that everything related to the tea party targeting be preserved. He said that message was received by everybody save for two workers on the graveyard shift at the West Virginia facility where the deletions happened. Explaining that he is essentially irreplacable, he said if he were to go, it would be tougher to hire good talent in the future, and he said it would derail the improvements he’s been able to make at the tax agency.
Wednesday’s hearing came only after GOP leaders, who’d been reluctant to pursue impeachment, had their hand forced by House conservatives. They were unswayed by Mr. Koskinen’s defense.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said the chain of events was suspicious, and said impeachment and removal is the right punishment. “All we’re asking is this guy no longer hold this office,” he said. “In light of this fact pattern, I think that’s the least we can do.”
Koskinen said he hopes the Judiciary Committee decides not to report to the House floor a resolution to authorize formal impeachment proceedings against him. "Should the Committee take that step, however, I am fully prepared to assist the Committee in developing a solid and vetted factual and legal record that Members can rely on to exercise their constitutional responsibility."
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At the hearing, Goodlatte focused his questions on the IRS’s handling of Lerner’s emails. He asked Koskinen about the steps he took to preserve emails after the agency received a subpoena. Koskinen said he met with senior executives and was told that an appropriate document retention order had previously been issued. His counsel sent a follow-up memo to information-technology employees to remind them to preserve the emails.
Conservatives present at the hearing showed no signs of backing down, even as Koskinen aggressively defended his record. GOP leaders and Koskinen would both like to avoid his impeachment; the hearing was intended to put a lid on pressure from conservative lawmakers who had been calling for a floor vote this month.
Yet it is not clear that vote will be avoided. Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who lost his primary and will be out of office early next year, has threatened to force a vote before the House adjourns for the election. He told reporters Tuesday he would make a final decision after the hearing.
Later in the hearing, Goodlatte asked Koskinen if he could provide to the Judiciary Committee as well as to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee written communications that he and any other IRS employees made to preserve records subject to subpoenas. Koskinen said he would do that.
Koskinen said that the erasure of the backup tapes has been determined to be an accident caused by two IRS employees working the midnight shift at a facility in Martinsburg, W.Va. But Republicans were unswayed by Koskinen's defense.
“You issue 66,000 summons and subpoenas each year,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who introduced a resolution to impeach Koskinen last year. “You know how to dish it out but you can’t take it. And so we issue a subpoena, we expect you to comply with it.... And when you destroy documents that are under subpoena, somebody’s got to be held accountable for that. And that starts with you,” Chaffetz said.
“You provided false testimony to this committee, you’ve provided false testimony to the Oversight and Government Reform committee, and you should be held accountable for that.”
Meanwhile, Democrats, enraged at the hearing, said impeachment was uncalled for, and tried to hijack the the proceedings into an attack on Donald Trump.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) declared the hearing “an obvious sham” before asking Koskinen about the Republican presidential nominee's tax returns, which he has said he will not release publicly because he is under a federal audit.
“Is there anything that would prohibit someone from releasing their tax returns, if they want to, because they're under audit?” Nadler said, without mentioning Trump by name. “No,” Koskinen responded.
“Can an individual use other people's money run through a charitable foundation to enrich themselves or satisfy his personal debts or obligations?” Nadler asked.
Koskinen answered that tax-exempt organizations cannot use their funds to benefit their own members.
Nadler also made reference to Trump spending $12,000 of his foundation's money to buy a football helmet signed by Tim Tebow, $20,000 for a 6-foot portrait of himself, $100,000 to cover a legal settlement and $158,000 to settle a dispute with a charity golf tournament participant.
After Goodlatte objected to the question, saying it was outside the scope of the hearing, Nadler asked Koskinen for an opinion on whether the IRS should bring a case on the matter. If it did not, Nadler asked if he thought it would be an “impeachable” offense for the commissioner. Koskinen said IRS commissioners don't personally make such decisions but that there is a detailed process to examine such cases.
And so on.
In conclusion, just like yesterday's kangaroo court involving the CEO of Wells Fargo which led to a lot of fingerpointing and angry statements by senators, today's hearing will have a similar result: lot of words, and no actual change.