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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz and 18 members of his Oversight and Government Reform Committee all Republicans on Tuesday filed articles of impeachment against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, alleging he failed to comply with a subpoena and notify Congress that key evidence was missing and that he lied to Congress and provided false and misleading information.
"Commissioner Koskinen violated the public trust," Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in a statement. "He failed to comply with a congressionally issued subpoena, documents were destroyed on his watch and the public was consistently misled. Impeachment is the appropriate tool to restore public confidence in the IRS and to protect the institutional interests of Congress."
Democrats immediately denounced the move as partisan grandstanding.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said the impeachment resolution was "ridiculous" and continues the GOP's obsession with "investigating rabbit holes" that wastes taxpayer money.
"Calling this resolution a 'stunt' or a 'joke' would be insulting to stunts and jokes," Cummings said in a statement. "Instead of squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on baseless partisan attacks, the committee should focus on issues that matter to all Americans, like bringing down the costs of prescription drugs, as I have requested for the past year with no success."
Cummings added that there's zero evidence Koskinen engaged in the acts being alleged and that the IRS has spent $20 million and 160,000 employee hours cooperating with investigations.
While rare, impeachment is a last-resort effort to remove a public official from office. The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times, according to the House historian, but less than a third of those have led to full impeachments. The Senate has convicted and removed from office only eight people, all federal judges.
Chaffetz had said in July that he would seek to impeach Koskinen over the IRS response to questionable tactics during the 2012 presidential race if the commissioner didn't resign.
"This action will demonstrate to the American people that the IRS is under repair and signal that executive branch officials who violate the public trust will be held accountable," Chaffetz said.
Specifically, Chaffetz and the other Republicans say that Koskinen:
• Failed to locate and preserve IRS records in accordance with a congressional subpoena and an internal preservation order. The IRS, the members claim, erased 422 backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 of former IRS official Lois Lerner's emails.
• Testified, misleadingly, that the IRS had turned over all emails relevant to the investigation and when emails were found to be missing, said they were unrecoverable. "These statements were false," the members say.
• Failed to notify Congress that it knew Lerner's emails were missing despite alerting the White House and the Treasury Department that was the case.
The IRS issued a statement saying the agency "vigorously disputes the allegations in the resolution. We have fully cooperated with all of the investigations."
That includes the probe of Lerner, who was accused of targeting of tea party groups during the presidential race. The Department of Justice said last week said it had closed its investigation of the IRS and Lerner over the case and no charges were forthcoming.
Earlier Tuesday, Koskinen appeared before the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, and reiterated that the IRS has implemented changes to ensure a fair process for all Americans without partisan involvement.
"Let me reiterate my belief that the IRS must continue to do everything possible to make sure all individuals and organizations can be confident that they will be treated fairly in their dealings with this agency," Koskinen testified. "They need to know they will receive fair, unbiased treatment, regardless of their political affiliation, their position on political issues or whom they supported in the last election. And when someone hears from us regarding their tax return, they need to understand it's only because of something that is or should be on their return and no other factors."
Hatch said that he wanted to make sure that's the case.
"Our overall goal here should be to restore the credibility of the IRS and ensure that this very powerful agency treats all American taxpayers fairly," Hatch said. "While I want to commend the IRS for the efforts they have made thus far, it is my understanding that, up to now, most of the changes they've made have been procedural in nature and very little has been done to begin work on the needed structural changes at the agency."
Similar to a presidential impeachment, the allegations against Koskinen will likely be forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee, which will hear evidence, then vote on whether to pursue the charges to the full House. If the House votes by simple majority to impeach, the Senate then holds a trial to decide to remove the official.