Policy

Freedom Caucus' Jordan Eyes Another Push to Oust IRS Chief

Pre-election House vote still doubtful

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is sworn in during a 2014 House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the IRS scandal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Jim Jordan and other conservatives are reviving efforts to press the House to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen as the embattled agency head tries to woo Democrats and undecided Republicans.

The Ohio Republican, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in an interview that he and other allies were weighing the use of procedural tactics similar to the July bid by Louisiana GOP Rep. John Fleming to bring up an impeachment resolution as a privileged measure bypassing committee consideration. The measure calls for formal impeachment of Koskinen for misstatements and a failure to cooperate with a House investigation of the IRS' handling of tax-exempt status requests from conservative groups.

[The GOP's War on the IRS]

Congress didn't act on the measure before it left for a seven-week recess. And because the House did not take it up within two legislative days, Fleming would have to offer another one after Labor Day.

"We may have to bring that up again. We'll see," Jordan said. He said members of the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives would keep the pressure on Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and others in leadership to take action when Congress returns after Labor Day.

"We are committed to holding John Koskinen and the IRS accountable for what took place there. So, we can do that in a formal way, which is through hearings … and vote it out of the Judiciary Committee and move that direction, or we can look at going to the floor," Jordan said.

Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia has declined comment on any timetable for further deliberations or on action on another impeachment resolution sponsored by Utah GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz or on another proposal by Chaffetz to censure the IRS chief.

[Critics Present Their Case Against IRS Chief Koskinen]

While Goodlatte weighs his options, Koskinen made clear he intended to fight during a visit last month to an IRS service center in Ogden, Utah.

"I have no intention of being hounded out of office," Koskinen said to reporters, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Although the House could vote to impeach, or formally charge Koskinen, he has drawn support from the likes of Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, who could help him avert the two-thirds Senate majority vote that would be required to convict him of any charges of misconduct.

"My concern is that no appointed official has been impeached for 140 years. So if we are, suddenly, on relatively poorly supported facts, going to start attacking senior officials, people in the private sector will have second thoughts about public service," said Koskinen, 77, whose term expires in November 2017.

Michael J. Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said House passage of an impeachment resolution would be the first such action by that chamber against an executive branch official, besides the president, since the 1876 impeachment of Secretary of War William W. Belknap, who later resigned. But Gerhardt said he doubted the House would hold an expedited impeachment vote before the election "if we follow past practice."

Ryan Ellis, a senior fellow at Conservative Reform Network, a think tank, said that he expected members of the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives to push for floor action with or without support from Goodlatte and other House GOP leaders. "It's a winning issue with the Republican base. The base feels like the IRS has it out for conservative and tea party groups. It's a case of government agency that has been politicized," Ellis said.

[Ryan Stops Short of Backing Effort to Impeach IRS Chief]

But some Republicans like Rep. James B. Renacci of Ohio, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, voiced doubts about an expedited impeachment vote. "Without the process, I would not support it," Renacci said.

"Due process means that he is allowed to come before the Judiciary Committee with an attorney and issue his statement and his rebuttal and his reasons why he should not be impeached, and then a decision should be made. I would not be supportive of anything less," he said.

Koskinen antagonized Judiciary Republicans by declining Goodlatte's invitation to testify at a hearing on the issue in May, citing the lack of adequate time to prepare after an official trip to China.

In a July 8 letter to Goodlatte and Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr., the panel's ranking Democrat, Koskinen's private lawyers called for a private meeting with Goodlatte and for "full, fair, and detailed consideration" of any charges in committee.

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