Republicans have launched an effort to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen due to alleged misconduct, including failing to comply with a congressional subpoena and allowing emails to be destroyed.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday examining evidence in regards to this effort and the commissioner declined to attend, citing his crowded schedule.
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"The short notice provided has left me without sufficient time to prepare to appear in person on Tuesday for what could be a wide-ranging and complex discussion regarding claims that may only become clear after the hearing’s first panel," Koskinen said.
According to the Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration, the IRS began targeting tea party and conservative groups who were applying for tax-exempt status in 2010. Lois Lerner, who headed the IRS’s exempt organizations unit during this time, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify regarding the scandal.
In response, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee sent a subpoena to the agency in 2013 requesting all of Ms. Lerner’s emails. Mr. Koskinen took office on December 2013 and the committee reissued the subpoena to him in February 2014.
"That same month, on February 2, 2014, Catherine Duvall—Counselor to the Commissioner—noticed a huge gap in the Lerner emails being produced," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) who testified at the hearing. "Mr. Koskinen testified to our Committee the agency was aware that a substantial number of Ms. Lerner’s emails were missing."
"One month after discovering Lois Lerner’s emails were missing, on March 4, IRS employees working the midnight shift at a facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia, magnetically erased 422 back-up tapes containing Lois Lerner’s emails," Chaffetz explained. "On June 20, 2014 Mr. Koskinen testified before the Ways and Means Committee stating, ‘Since the start of this investigation, every email has been preserved. Nothing has been lost. Nothing has been destroyed.’"
"There really is no dispute about the facts: the IRS destroyed up to 24,000 of Lois Lerner’s emails under two congressional subpoenas, Commissioner Koskinen made several statements in testimony before the Congress that are false, the IRS failed to produce all of the emails it had in its possession, and the IRS failed to do basic due diligence by not looking in obvious places for Lerner’s emails," said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) who also testified at the hearing.
In his written statement, Koskinen said he believes there is no substance to any of the charges put forward by the committee regarding a move for impeachment.
"The erasure of 422 disaster recovery tapes at Martinsburg, West Virginia, was clearly a failure of the IRS’s document preservation protocols," he said. "The IRS accepts responsibility for it, and as detailed in its submissions to Congress, has improved employee training and has taken other measures to minimize the risk that anything like this could ever happen again."
However, Koskinen maintains that both the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Department of Justice have determined that the erasure of disaster recovery tapes was an accident.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) brought up this line of defense during his questioning in the hearing, leading Chaffetz to respond.
"That’s a fairly weak argument," said Chaffetz. "The question is, did they destroy documents that were under subpoena? The answer is yes. Did they provide false and misleading testimony to Congress? Yes, and on more than one occasion. If that testimony was not accurate and they wanted to correct it they had a duty and obligation to do it and they never did do it."
"To the 60,000 people, constituents of yours and mine and others that will get a subpoena and that will get a summons from the IRS, is it good enough for them to just come back and say you know I had those documents and by golly it was an accident, I destroyed them all?" Chaffetz asked. "Do you think that’s going to fly? Heck no. No way."