A House hearing on the alleged misdeeds and potential impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was held without its key witness on Tuesday, after Koskinen spurned an invitation to testify and was denied a request to enter a statement on the record.
Instead, two of Koskinen’s most vocal accusers — Republican House Oversight Committee members Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida — presented their case before the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee .
In testimony that included a 10-minute video produced by members of Chaffetz’s staff, the two House members argued that Koskinen had lied, destroyed evidence and ignored subpoenas from their committee and otherwise “stonewalled” its investigation of the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
“As of today, not a single individual has been held accountable in any way for what happened with the IRS,” DeSantis said. He added that if Koskinen was allowed to, “get away,” with the conduct, leaders other government agencies would be provided with, “a blueprint for how to stymie” future investigations.
The House hasn’t impeached a senior agency head since the 19th century and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin has signaled he doesn’t favor such a step in this instance. Democrats on the panel questioned whether Koskinen’s conduct rose to the level as previous cases.
“Is this being a little heavy-handed about this matter?” asked John Conyers Jr., D-Mich. “I think that we ought to move a little bit more carefully on this.”
Chaffetz said the hearing would not be the last word on the issue.
“We’re going to continue to pursue this,” he said.
The hearing began on a contentious note, when chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va, declined a request from Conyers to enter into the record a statement from Koskinen, on an objection from California Rep. Darrell Issa .
Issa said it would be “inappropriate,” to allow the statement after Koskinen declined to testify under oath.
“This is a self-serving statement from a witness who declined to be here,” said Issa, who led the congressional investigation into the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups when he was chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Conyers disagreed, pointing out that Koskinen was not given a customary two-week notice of the invitation and had just returned from China.
“I’m not making excuses for his absence,” Conyers said. “All I’m saying is, since he’s not here, and he has a statement, I would like to put it in the record.”
The Judiciary Committee proceeding was called to examine allegations that Koskinen made false statements and failed to fully cooperate with an Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation into claims that the IRS improperly scrutinized conservative nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Chaffetz led 19 Republican members in filing a resolution to impeach Koskinen and the GOP-led Judiciary Committee has begun to review the matter.
The IRS has said it disputes the Oversight allegations and that it has cooperated with congressional investigations.
Democrats contend the whole thing amounts to election-year politicking.
A spokesman for Ryan declined to comment on Monday.
The IRS has come under renewed fire from conservative lawmakers and activists in recent months over the targeting scandal.
North Carolina Rep. George Holding introduced a bill last week that would strip IRS agents of their badges and guns. The measure proposes shifting the agency’s criminal investigations unit to the Treasury Department.