Conservatives Takes Boldest Action Yet Against IRS Chief

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Accusing him of obstructing an investigation into IRS audits of conservative groups, a House committee moved Wednesday to condemn IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
     Passing 23-15, the resolution reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this morning calls for Koskinen to resign or, failing that, for President Barack Obama to remove him from office.
     While not impeachment, the move sets up a vote before the full House of Representatives. It is the strongest action the House has taken against Koskinen since the IRS targeting scandal came to light in May 2013.
     There was some debate in the committee over whether the resolution could compel Koskinen to turn over his government pension and other benefits.
     Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., claimed the resolution does not have the authority to do so and merely reflects the “sense” of the House that he should turn over the pension.
     Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who chairs the committee, disagreed and advised Norton to seek her own counsel to determine what the resolution could do.
     The part of the resolution that requires Koskinen to turn over his pension is one of two subsections under a provision that reads “it is the sense of the House of Representatives that John A. Koskinen, Commissioner of Internal Revenue should -“
     “When a senior executive branch official doesn’t fulfill the important duties of ensuring compliance with a Congressional subpoena and testifying dutifully to Congress there must be repercussions,” Chaffetz said at this morning’s meeting.
     House Republicans, especially those with strong Tea Party support, have homed in on the IRS since an inspector general report from 2013 suggested the agency more harshly considered conservative groups when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
     They claim the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to identify conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status. Such identification then saddled applicants with a deluge of paperwork and information requests.
     Though Koskinen came to the IRS as a “fixer” for Obama after the scandal broke, Republicans are after him for allegedly stonewalling a congressional subpoena, lying under oath and misleading Congress during its investigation into the scandal.
     Republicans have chided Koskinen in particular for his statements to Congress on the destruction of the hard drive former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner used while with the agency, and his alleged failure to preserve emails and other sought-after evidence.
     They also say Koskinen also did not notify Congress in time when he realized some of the documents were missing.
     This past October, Rep. Chaffetz introduced an impeachment resolution against Koskinen that is currently before the House Judiciary Committee. Chaffetz testified about his claims before the House Judiciary Committee on May 24. Koskinen did not attend this hearing despite having been invited to do so.
     The targeting scandal has become mired in partisan rhetoric, with Democrats defending the agency against the Republicans’ resilient attacks. This dynamic was evident right from the start of Wednesday’s markup hearing for the censure resolution, as Democrats sought to stop Republicans from claiming a symbolic victory in the scandal.
     “There was no politically motivated targeting at the IRS,” Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said at the hearing. “There was no obstruction of justice. It simply did not happen. After three years and more than $20 million, it is time to put these baseless conspiracy theories to rest.”
     Democrats criticized Republicans for going “too far” with the censure resolution, suggesting they were taking their frustrations with the IRS out on the wrong person, and threatening to take away a long-time public servant’s pension without hard evidence he did anything wrong.
     “I don’t understand the basis of damaging this man’s reputation, I really don’t,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said at the meeting. “And trying to take his pension. I mean, he devoted a significant portion of his life to public service. And I’ve got to tell you, this is wrong. This is wrong.”
     Pointing to an investigation by the IRS Inspector General Russell George, Cummings said there is no evidence the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups with harsh inspection of their applications for tax-exempt status. Cummings and other Democrats put more weight on George’s report than other, similar findings from federal agencies because George was a nominee of President George W. Bush.
     In an effort to contrast Republican rhetoric with George’s findings, Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., tried to strike every word in the censure resolution and replace it with George’s report, but Republicans on the committee overcame the amendment by a 15-21 vote.
     “If we mean our proceedings here to be fact-based and honoring the truth, we should use Mr. George’s conclusion instead of the ones that we cook up right here in the committee,” Cartwright said.
     In defending the censure resolution from Cartwright’s amendment, Chaffetz reminded the members of the committee the resolution is about Koskinen’s response to the committee’s investigation, not the IRS’ alleged targeting.
     “We’re concerned about Mr. Koskinen,” Chaffetz said. “When he came on board there was subpoena put in place in August of 2013, there was another subpoena in February after that that was put in place. He had a fiduciary duty to comply with that subpoena. Based on the testimony that has been given we find that to be false.”
     Cartwright’s was the second attempt Democrats made to defang the censure resolution, but neither had a chance over the Republican majority.
     Criticizing the censure resolution as being “riddled with factual inaccuracies,” Cummings introduced an amendment to the resolution that he said corrected some of the errors.
     Cummings’ amendment would have changed the sixth paragraph of the resolution to show Koskinen knew of Lerner’s missing emails in April 2014, not in February as the resolution originally claimed. It also would have changed a Koskinen quote in the resolution to make it clear it was a combination of two quotes he gave at two separate hearings more than a month apart.
     “I am not saying you were dishonest,” Cummings said. “I recognize that you were likely relying on what others told you. The same is true of Commissioner Koskinen.”
     Chaffetz accepted the part of Cummings’ amendment on the quote, but introduced his own that struck the two other parts of Cummings’. Cummings’ amendment, with Chaffetz’s changes to it, passed by a voice vote.
     The resolution needs approval by the full House to take effect.

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