IRS Chief John Koskinen will not appear before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday to defend himself against charges that he defied a subpoena from Congress as it investigated the treatment of conservative groups and should be ousted from office.
Aides to the embattled tax collector on Monday said he has not had adequate time to prepare to testify. Koskinen returned to Washington from a trip to China on May 13, the same day committee Republicans announced they would hold the first of two hearings to consider impeaching him.
“When the committee announced this hearing, [Commissioner Koskinen] was returning from China after meeting with tax administrators of 43 nations,” the IRS said in a statement provided by spokesman Matthew Leas.
“The committee’s quick timetable left him without the time to fully prepare for Tuesday’s hearing,” the statement said. Also, the tax chief is preparing “for a previous commitment” to appear Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Committee on another matter, Leas said.
The IRS statement also cited an “extensive record” from congressional investigations and hearings two years ago on the extra scrutiny the IRS gave conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, the issue that brought House Republicans to pursue the first impeachment of an agency head in 140 years.
But the hearing, the product of a seven-month campaign by the House’s far-right caucus to force President Barack Obama to fire Koskinen, still promises to be a spectacle of partisan politics even in a Congress riven by partisanship.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has led the charge for impeachment, is scheduled to testify as a witness before his GOP colleagues and Democratic detractors on why the IRS chief has been derelict in his duties. Chaffetz will be joined at the witness table by Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. Both lawmakers belong to the far-right Freedom Caucus, which has moved to punish the IRS for its treatment of conservative groups.
Chaffetz and DeSantis will take an oath to be truthful like every other witness. And then they will tell the committee why Koskinen — whose term does not end until November 2017, almost a year after Obama leaves office — should lose his job.
Koskinen, a fix-it executive with a record of turning around troubled companies, was not at the IRS when the agency’s tax-exempt division singled out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny. But as Republicans investigating the case sought missing emails written by Lois Lerner, the since-retired official at the center of the scandal, they blamed Koskinen for being less than truthful.
In articles of impeachment Chaffetz filed last October, he charged that Koskinen erased backup computer files containing thousands of emails written by Lerner. Koskinen had told lawmakers his staff turned over all of the relevant emails, and when some were found to be missing, said they were unrecoverable.
A GOP House Judiciary Committee aide said the panel “provided Commissioner Koskinen with an opportunity to defend himself and it is up to him to take advantage of that opportunity. He’s chosen not to do so publicly at this time and instead has chosen to submit a written statement.”
Leas said Koskinen would consider testifying at a “future hearing” on whether to impeach him. The committee, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has said it intends to schedule a second proceeding for June.
Koskinen is unlikely to be ousted from his office because that would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Republicans are less eager to punish the IRS director.
But by holding hearings, House leaders are allowing IRS opponents to keep their constituents’ frustration with an unpopular agency in the foreground – and a good political target in their cross-hairs.
The Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the scandal last fall without filing criminal charges.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Lisa Rein