Tossing Koskinen? House to consider impeaching IRS chief

House Republicans have agitated for months to impeach IRS commissioner John Koskinen, and now it appears leadership has come on board. Politico’s Rachel Bade cites “multiple sources” in reporting that the House Judiciary Committee will use hearings over the next several weeks to prepare an impeachment:

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday announced plans for two hearings over the next several weeks to examine the “misconduct” of Koskinen. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee say the commissioner misled Congress about the status of sensitive emails regarding the IRS tea party scandal. Those documents were deleted during their probe of the scandal.

“The fact that officials at the IRS wielded their power to target certain Americans for their political views is both outrageous and contrary to our nation’s values,” Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said in a statement provided to POLITICO. “Despite repeated congressional efforts to get to the bottom of this matter, Obama Administration officials, including the IRS Commissioner, have consistently undermined the investigation.”

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a fervent IRS watchdog, have talked for well over a year about impeaching the IRS leader. They introduced a resolution to do just that with several dozen GOP cosponsors.

The hearings are a victory for both of them. GOP leadership has pushed back on their pitch for months, but the hearings signal top Republicans are at least considering the matter. The speaker’s office is aware of the committee’s plan and is supportive of the traditional committee process to examine the merits, said a source familiar with Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) thinking.

To call this a long time in coming is an understatement. Calls for Koskinen’s head started in 2014, after the IRS chief had testified that Lois Lerner’s e-mails had all been deleted — only to find out later that those e-mails still existed when Koskinen testified to the opposite. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began pressing for Koskinen’s impeachment last July, and in October produced a resolution of impeachment. Six months later, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) challenged House leadership to get something done about Koskinen after reports emerged that the IRS was facilitating the use of fake Social Security numbers for illegal immigrants:

Koskinen’s latest appearance on Capitol Hill probably accelerated matters. Koskinen had testified in February that the agency was broke and needed more money in the next budget to hire more staff. Three months later, Koskinen suddenly found the cash after all — and House Oversight chair Jason Chaffetz was less than pleased:

The chairman of a powerful House committee is demanding to know how IRS chief John Koskinen has found the money to hire up to 700 enforcement staffers when he told Congress a short time ago his agency was more or less broke.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, reminded the Internal Revenue Service commissioner in a letter that he told lawmakers in February that he “urgently needed” a billion-dollar budget increase next year to boost the agency’s enforcement staff.

“Now, less than three months later, without that increase, you have announced plans to increase enforcement activities,” Chaffetz wrote. “The inescapable conclusion is that your testimony to Congress was inaccurate, reflecting either an attempt to exaggerate IRS’s budget needs or a management failure in understanding the needs of your organization.”

So what’s the end game now? Koskinen has been “invited” to testify on May 24th at the start of the hearing process. Whether he attends or not, the House can proceed relatively quickly to a full impeachment vote in a reasonable period of time, as long as Speaker Paul Ryan is willing to back it. Judiciary will have to draw up articles of impeachment — basically the analog of an indictment — and pass it in committee and report it out to the full House. It only takes a simple majority to impeach a federal official at any level, and there probably won’t be many Republicans in the House who will step in to defend Koskinen.

But then what? According to Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution, the Senate then holds a trial to test the articles of impeachment. “And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present,” meaning that Republicans will need 67 votes to remove Koskinen. Republicans now hold 54 seats, so they will need at least 13 Democrats to go along with a conviction — and that assumes that some Republicans won’t bail out, especially those in touch re-election fights this year. The likelihood of a conviction seems close to nil, regardless of how badly Koskinen has behaved, especially since he’s not going to be around for more than a few more months anyway.

Maybe the impeachment will be enough to force Koskinen to retire, or perhaps even the threat of impeachment might do it. He’s stuck around a long time already, though, and Koskinen might be contrarian enough to call the GOP’s hand. If nothing else, it will add to an already interesting 2016 election cycle.