House Oversight Committee video outlining key events in the IRS targeting scandal, titled: “There Must be Accountability”
WASHINGTON – A key GOP lawmaker was livid when when embattled IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was a no-show at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on whether he should face impeachment for obstructing the investigation into the IRS targeting scandal, and tried to submit a statement instead.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., declared, “This is Lois Lerner revisited,” after ranking Democrat Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., tried to enter a statement from Koskinen into the official record.
That was a reference to when Lerner appeared before Congress and read a statement declaring her innocence, then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.
Republicans were outraged by that, saying Lerner had forfeited her right not to answer questions by making a statement for the record first.
Issa said by not appearing in person, but maintaining his innocence in a statement not taken under oath and having it entered into the official record, Koskinen was trying to have it both ways, just like Lerner. Koskinen’s statement was entered into the record, but with a notation of the objection.
A House source told WND that now the IRS chief has refused to appear voluntarily he will be subpoenaed and compelled to testify at a later date.
Issa was the chair of the Oversight committee when Lerner took the Fifth. He made his objection to Koskinen’s statement Tuesday morning as a member of the Judiciary Committee.
In a highly unusual twist, the witnesses who did appear, U.S. Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., were also members of the very Judiciary committee they were testifying before. They are also members of Oversight committee, where Chaffetz succeeded Issa as chair last year.
The key points made by Chaffetz were that, following the IRS targeting of conservative groups for several years, Koskinen:
- failed to comply with a congressional subpoena which resulted in destruction of key evidence;
- made false statements during his sworn congressional testimony;
- and did not notify Congress that the emails of key IRS scandal figure Lois Lerner were missing.
“As members of Congress we have no reason to have any confidence that Mr. Koskinen will run one of the most powerful agencies with any integrity,” Chaffetz said in his opening statement. “Nor can the American people feel confident the agency won’t misuse its power under his direction.”
“For these reasons,” he asserted, “it is time for Congress to act and remove him as head of the agency.”
President Obama appointed Koskinen to a five-year term on Dec. 23, 2013. He was supposed to clean up the IRS after Congress learned the agency had inappropriately targeted and hindered conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. When President Obama nominated Koskinen to replace acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel in 2013, he said, “New leadership that can help restore confidence going forward” was needed. Instead, according to Chaffetz, Koskinen maintained the stonewall of his predecessor.
“Mr. Koskinen prevented Congress – and the American people – from ever learning exactly how and why their First Amendment rights were violated,” he said.
When it was his turn to question the witnesses, Issa asked Chaffetz if his committee had determined that the IRS had targeted conservatives and Koskinen had given false statements either with the intention to deceive or because he was too lazy to verify the truth?
Yes, said Chaffetz. He cited Koskinen’s failure to find evidence, such as the backup tapes containing Lerner’s missing mails, easily found by a member of Inspector General’s staff by merely driving to the West Virginia facility where they were stored.
When Issa asked if the IRS was still targeting conservative groups, Chaffetz said that was continuing under Koskinen’s leadership.
Chaffetz said the need to remove Koskinen was urgent because he would not be leaving his post at the end of the Obama administration, but would stay in place until the end of his term in 2017.
The House Oversight Committee has doggedly investigated the IRS targeting scandal for the last three years.
Chaffetz introduced a bill to begin proceedings to impeach Koskinen on Oct. 27, 2015, which now has 69 co-sponsors. But there is a reason that bill has not come up for a floor vote in the House, and why this hearing was held instead.
A congressional source told WND, as much as conservative lawmakers want to impeach Koskinen, they also want to “preserve regular order,” that is, follow the established process and respect committee jurisdictions, something they felt was not done under the leadership of former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
So, according to the source, instead of pressuring current House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Ohio, for a floor vote on the impeachment bill, conservative leaders in the House agreed to let the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing where the case for impeachment could be made publicly.
The hearing might also help convince key members of Congress that impeachment proceedings would be warranted.
Like Chaffetz and DeSantis, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is also on both the Judiciary and Oversight committees. He is also the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
After the hearing, WND asked Jordan if some members of the Judiciary Committee might have needed persuading that such a serious remedy as impeachment was warranted.
“I think they just needed reminding of the facts. And the facts speak for themselves,” replied the congressman. “They destroyed documents that were under subpoena. They waited months to tell us there were problems, even though he (Koskinen) said ‘I’ll let you know as soon as I know’ “(the whereabouts of Lerner’s missing emails).
“He knew about problems with Lerner’s hard drive and the gap in the emails but waited four months to tell Congress,” Jordan continued. “He also failed to do his due diligence and find out if there were any remaining backup tapes (for Lerner’s emails) and it turned out there were, 700 of them.”
During the hearing, Jordan noted, “It seems to me a dereliction of duty when you wait four months to tell Congress. His chief counsel knew in February of 2014 that there were problems and a gap in Lerner’s e-mails and he doesn’t tell us until June. His chief lawyer knew and he waits four months, and the reason he told us he waited four months was because he was doing his due diligence to make sure that actually happened. And part of that due diligence wasn’t even checking to see if there were back-up tapes available. I think that’s dereliction of duty.”
The day before the hearing, Jordan explained to WND exactly why he and his colleagues were calling for impeachment.
“IRS Commissioner John Koskinen failed to fulfill his duty to the American people,” Jordan told WND. “He allowed back-up tapes containing potentially 24,000 emails to be destroyed. He failed to inform Congress about the destruction of these back-up tapes in a timely manner. He gave false testimony before Congress regarding the back-up tapes. He refused to correct the record when given the opportunity.”
Jordan recalled the founders had provided Congress a remedy expressly intended for such a circumstance.
“Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that impeachment should be used to protect the public against ‘the abuse or violation of some public trust,’” he observed. “Commissioner Koskinen has most assuredly violated the public trust, and it’s time for him to go. While I’m happy that we’re holding hearings, ultimately Congress should hold a vote on impeachment.”
The founders came up when Jordan questioned DeSantis, asking him if an official needed to commit a crime to be impeached.
DeSantis cited the framers, who maintained that political transgressions were sufficient, such as those Jordan had named: gross negligence, dereliction of duty and breach of public trust.
Jordan asked: Did Koskinen do all of those?
Yes, replied DeSantis.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., also a member of both the Oversight and Judiciary committees, asked Chaffetz if incompetence could be an impeachable offense.
After the witness affirmed that possibility, Gowdy noted that the IRS had previously tried to explain its wrongdoing because of its own incompetence.
“How, then,” Gowdy wondered, “could incompetence be a defense to an allegation of incompetence?”
He said he looked forward to Koskinen’s explanation.
Three months before Chaffetz introduced the bill to impeach Koskinen, Jordan and DeStanis wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “The Stonewall at the Top of the IRS,” outlining the case against the commissioner, that was published on July 28, 2015.
That piece made these key charges against Koskinen:
- Destruction of evidence. Lois Lerner, at the time the director of the IRS’ exempt-organizations unit, invoked the Fifth Amendment on May 22, 2013, when appearing before Congress; her refusal to testify put a premium on obtaining and reviewing her email communications. On the same day the IRS’ chief technology officer issued a preservation order that instructed IRS employees “not to destroy/wipe/reuse any of the existing backup tapes for email, or archiving of other information from IRS personal computers.” Several weeks later, on Aug. 2, the House Oversight Committee issued its first subpoena for IRS documents, including all of Ms. Lerner’s emails. On Feb. 2, 2014, Kate Duval, the IRS commissioner’s counsel, identified a gap in the Lerner emails that were being collected. Days later, Ms. Duval learned that the gap had been caused in 2011 when the hard drive of Ms. Lerner’s computer crashed.Despite all this – an internal IRS preservation order, a congressional subpoena, and knowledge about Ms. Lerner’s hard-drive and email problems – the Treasury inspector general for tax administration discovered that the agency on March 4, 2014, erased 422 backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 emails. (Congress learned of the discovery only last month.)Ms. Duval has since left the IRS and now works at the State Department, where she is responsible for vetting Hillary Clinton’s emails sought by congressional investigations of the Benghazi attacks.
- Failure to inform Congress. Mr. Koskinen was made aware of the problems associated with Ms. Lerner’s emails the same month Ms. Duval discovered the gap. Yet the IRS withheld the information from Congress for four months, until June 13, 2014, when the agency used a Friday news dump to admit – on page seven of the third attachment to a letter sent to the Senate Finance Committee – that it had lost many of Ms. Lerner’s emails.During that four-month delay, Mr. Koskinen testified before Congress under oath four times. On March 26, 2014, he appeared before the Oversight Committee and pledged that the IRS would produce all of Ms. Lerner’s emails, not mentioning that the IRS already knew of the problems with her emails and hard drive. Mr. Koskinen deliberately kept Congress in the dark. Based on testimony received by the committee, we now know that the IRS appears to have spent the four months working with the Obama administration to fine-tune talking points to mitigate the fallout.
- False testimony before Congress. Mr. Koskinen made statements to Congress that were categorically false. Of the more than 1,000 computer backup tapes discovered by the IRS inspector general, approximately 700 hadn’t been erased and contained relevant information. But Mr. Koskinen testified he had “confirmed” that all of the tapes were unrecoverable.He also said: “We’ve gone to great lengths, spent a significant amount of money trying to make sure that there is no email that is required that has not been produced.” In reality, the inspector general found that Mr. Koskinen’s team failed to search several potential sources for Ms. Lerner’s emails, including the email server, her BlackBerry and the Martinsburg, W.Va., storage facility that housed the backup tapes.The 700 intact backup tapes the inspector general recovered were found within 15 days of the IRS’s informing Congress that they were not recoverable. Employees from the inspector general’s office simply drove to Martinsburg and asked for the tapes. It turns out that the IRS had never even asked whether the tapes existed.Three weeks after the 422 other backup tapes were destroyed by the IRS, Mr. Koskinen told the committee that he would produce “all” Lerner documents. This statement was clearly false – you can’t give Congress “all” of the material if you know that you have already destroyed some of it.
- Failure to correct the record. After his false statements to Congress under oath, Mr. Koskinen refused to amend them when given the opportunity at a public hearing earlier this year. If a lawyer makes a false statement to a court, he has a duty to correct it. Civil officers like Commissioner Koskinen have a duty to the American people to revise their testimony when it contains inaccuracies.
- Failure to reform the IRS to protect First Amendment rights. Mr. Koskinen hasn’t acted on the president’s May 2013 promise to “put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again.” A Government Accountability Office report released last week found that the IRS continues to lack the controls necessary to prevent unfair treatment of nonprofit groups on the basis of an “organization’s religious, educational, political, or other views.” In other words, the targeting of conservative groups may very well continue.