WASHINGTON — An Ohio congressman sharply questioned IRS Commissioner John Koskinen Wednesday about whether the IRS was still targeting conservative groups who were applying for tax-exempt status, saying Koskinen must be punished for his role thwarting the investigation of the scandal.
“You should’ve been gone a long time ago,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, told Koskinen during an occasionally contentious hearing that Jordan has long sought.
Jordan, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has helped lead the effort to impeach Koskinen, who was appointed to lead the IRS in the aftermath of the agency’s 2013 admission that they had unfairly targeted conservative groups. While Koskinen was not at the agency during the initial scandal, Jordan and other conservatives argue he has thwarted their investigation, including by allowing subpoenaed emails to be destroyed.
The hearing was the result of a deal made late last week after Jordan and other House conservatives tried to force a vote on Koskinen’s impeachment. One of those conservatives, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, who lost his primary, is still seeking a vote before Congress goes home to campaign for its re-election.
While Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee called the investigation “a sham” and “abuse,” Jordan argued that the hearings were long overdue.
“All we’re asking is this guy no longer hold this office,” he said, saying it’s hypocritical that IRS officials are allowed to escape punishment for destroying evidence while Americans who lose or misplace tax documents are prosecuted.
Koskinen, meanwhile, apologized for mistakes in the investigation, but argued impeachment would be “improper.”
“It would create disincentives for many good people to serve,” he said. “And it would slow the pace of reform and progress at the IRS.”
He said he had directed IRS staff to cooperate fully with Congress, but the backup tapes were destroyed by two IRS employees working the midnight shift at a West Virginia branch.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that the Senate Finance Committee, the Department of Justice and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration all found no evidence that the IRS had attempted to obstruct justice or hide information from Congress.
“No matter how we feel about a particular official, no matter what we think about his or her agency, successful impeachments are bipartisan efforts-and partisan attacks cloaked in the impeachment process are doomed from the start,” he said, saying efforts to impeach Koskinen are “destined to fail both on the merits and as a matter of process.”
He said he worried that proceeding with the issue would turn impeachment “from a constitutional check of last resort into a tool of political convenience.”
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said Koskinen failed when he didn’t immediately alert Congress that he had learned the emails had been destroyed. “Arguable, Mr. Koskinen, you made matters worse,” he said.
Koskinen apologized for the delay, but said he wanted to produce as many emails as possible before disclosing that some emails had been destroyed.
“In retrospect, if I had to do it over, I would’ve advised Congress immediately, he said though he said the later disclosure did not delay or change the investigation.”
That wasn’t good enough for Chabot.
“You circled the wagons, you clammed up, you took the Fifth, you destroyed evidence and you betrayed the country,” he said. “And most sadly, you got away with it.”
Reach Jessica Wehrman at [email protected] or on Twitter @jessicawehrman.