WASHINGTON – IRS Director John Koskinen blamed “two guys on the night shift” for destroying key evidence sought by Congress.
He testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he did not personally instruct employees not to destroy backup tapes of 24,000 emails under subpoena in the investigation into the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
“I did not personally do that. I was assured managers understood,” he testified.
Koskinen said everyone apparently understood except “two guys on the night shift” at the IRS facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where the backup tapes containing the subpoenaed emails were destroyed. He also denied he had given orders to delete the tapes.
Fireworks erupted when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pressed Koskinen on his previous testimony that no evidence had been destroyed, asking, “Who had confirmed that? Who were these people?”
Koskinen said they were IRS executives and IT employees.
But the congressman noted the inspector general had determined the IRS never even checked to see if those backup tapes existed. The IG found that backup tapes containing 24,000 emails had been destroyed, and also found some tapes that still existed containing more than 1,000 missing emails. “We only found them because we looked,” the IG office had reported.
Chaffetz asked Koskinen how he could claim to have truthfully testified that he confirmed no evidence was missing, and that the IRS had turned over all available evidence, when he never even looked.
“That was false!” Chaffetz thundered.
The congressman said no ordinary taxpayer could survive such an excuse at the hands of the IRS and admonished the director, “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”
“You’ve provided false testimony,” charged a visibly livid Chaffetz, “and you should held accountable for that.”
The testimony came during a House Judiciary committee hearing on whether to initiate impeachment proceedings against the IRS commissioner.
“I accept that it is up to you to judge my overall record, but I believe impeachment would be improper,” said Koskinen.
The inquiry centers on whether Koskinen obstructed the congressional investigation of the IRS targeting of conservative groups by denying and delaying applications for tax-exempt status.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Chaffetz continually pressed Koskinen for making a false statement under oath in 2014 when he testified no evidence had been destroyed. Koskinen persistently claimed he was not aware the evidence had been destroyed when he made that statement.
Chaffetz asked the IRS commissioner why he then waited four months before informing Congress that evidence had, in fact, been destroyed by his agency.
Koskinen first claimed it had been only two months, then offered the excuse that he waited because he had instructed subordinates to find as many emails as they could.
“I submit you had a duty to inform Congress immediately,” replied Chaffetz.
“I agree,” admitted the IRS director. He said it was a mistake, and, if he could do it over again, he would have informed Congress immediately.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, delivered a blistering attack on Koskinen, beginning by asking if the IRS was still targeting conservative groups.
Jordan noted that on Aug. 5 a federal appeals court had found the targeting had never stopped because years-old applications from conservative groups were still being processed by the IRS.
Koskinene denied that was true, but then said “only three” applications were still being processed, and that was because they were under litigation.
“I thought you’d say that,” countered Jordan, “but the court didn’t buy your argument.” He noted the court had said, even if the applications were under litigation, the IRS should not be still denying their approval.
“So, if you haven’t stopped doing it, you’re still targeting,” exclaimed Jordan.
“Targeting is a present-tense verb,” responded Koskinen, claiming “we are processing” the applications.
“No,” bluntly countered the congressman, “It’s not me making this argument. This is the court saying you are still doing it.”
Jordan said people should never forget the underlying offense was that citizens were targeted by the IRS for their political beliefs, and that the agency was still harassing three conservative groups.
He recalled how former IRS tax-exempt division chief Lois Lerner “lied about it then took the Fifth.”
“You come in to clean up the mess,” but instead, documents were destroyed, false statements were made, continued Jordan. “And now, the clincher: It’s still going on. Targeting continues to this day. Those aren’t my words; that’s the court of appeals.”
“All we’re asking is this guy no longer hold this office,” said the congressman. “In light of this fact pattern, I think that’s the least we can do.”
Last week, Jordan told WND, “Impeaching Koskinen is the right thing to do,” and he detailed exactly why.
“Under his watch, with congressional subpoenas and preservation orders in place, the IRS destroyed 422 back-up tapes containing potentially 24,000 Lois Lerner emails. On top of that, Koskinen kept Congress in the dark for months before disclosing the issue made false statements under oath before Congress about the situation, and refused to correct the record after the truth came out,” detailed the congressman.
It’s the Judiciary Committee’s third hearing to examine the allegations of misconduct against Koskinen. He declined an invitation to testify in May. The third hearing focused on whether the House should begin impeachment proceedings against the IRS chief.
During the committee’s first hearing in May 2016, Chaffetz and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., testified that Koskinen failed to comply with a congressional subpoena, which resulted in destruction of key evidence. They also charged that he made false statements during his sworn congressional testimony and that he did not promptly notify Congress that Lois Lerner’s emails were missing. At the second hearing in June, members heard from outside experts on whether further congressional action is warranted.
In a stunning development, Republican congressional leaders reversed course last week and agreed to hold the third hearing on allegations against Koskinen, focusing on whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the the IRS chief.
House conservatives have been pleading for a years for a hearing explicitly considering whether to impeach Koskinen. Their sudden victory seemed to be the direct result of their using something called a “privileged resolution,” which would have circumvented GOP leaders and forced the House to vote on impeaching Koskinen without holding preliminary hearings.
The threat of that vote seemed to force the hand of House leaders, who capitulated and agreed last week to hold the Judiciary Committee hearing. The vote on the resolution was postponed.
The committee hearing forced Koskinen to publicly answer charges that he destroyed evidence and lied to Congress, as conservatives allege.
House leaders had complained that the conservatives’ use of the privileged resolution had violated regular order, because there had been no preliminary hearing. Conservatives countered that the resolution was in keeping with regular order, and their only option, because leaders had refused to schedule the hearing.
Regardless of whether Koskinin is ultimately impeached or not, it was a huge victory for conservatives just to have the hearing, because they had been told they were waging a futile battle and because the IRS commissioner had to defend his actions under oath.
And conservatives believe they have gathered enough evidence to convince lawmakers and persuade the public that Koskinen has indeed committed high crimes and misdemeanors.
The House Freedom Caucus, which is comprised of most of the leading conservatives in the House, released a statement last week that read:
“This hearing will give every American the opportunity to hear John Koskinen answer under oath why he misled Congress, allowed evidence pertinent to an investigation to be destroyed, and defied Congressional subpoenas and preservation orders. It will also remove any lingering excuses for those who have been hesitant to proceed with this course of action.
For too long, Obama Administration officials have been able to get away with acts that would have dramatic consequences for ordinary Americans. The American people see two standards — one for the powerful and politically connected, and another for ordinary Americans. This is a critical opportunity for Congress to show it works for and answers to the American people.”
President Obama called House lawmakers “crazy” for trying to hold Koskinen accountable by pushing for his impeachment.
But three of them passionately made their case before a small group of invited reporters on Capitol Hill last week.
WND asked Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., to respond to criticism that their attempt was futile because, even if the House voted in favor of impeachment, Democrats had enough votes to prevent a conviction in the Senate.
Jordan dismissed skepticism that the effort was doomed, noting all the compelling evidence against Koskinen unearthed in hearings, and declaring, “I think the fact pattern we’ve established is very strong.”
He also described it as his constitutional duty to see justice done, insisting, “Our job is to do our job. Then the Senate can do their job. We should do our job.”
Jordan expressed his strong desire to have all the facts revealed in hearings lead to consequences for Koskinen, and implied the outcome should not be taken as a foregone inclusion by using a high-school football analogy: “That’s why you play the game on Friday night. Sometimes the underdogs win.”
Meadows subtly ridiculed criticism of the impeachment effort, quipping, “I find it illuminating the Senate would talk about futility, given their track record.”
Huelskamp was softly indignant, remarking, “He has lied to me personally,” presumably referring to testimony made by Koskinen before House committees.
“The persecution of political opponents has to stop,” added the congressman. “He was brought in to do that. He has not. He has continued the cover-up and stonewall” of the IRS targeting of conservative groups.
A frustrated Huelskamp also said he doesn’t understand why a number of fellow Republicans would try to block an impeachment effort, because that puts them “on the side of the IRS.”
He expressed astonishment at colleagues’ reluctance to call to account an administration that “used the power of the IRS to attack political opponents of the White House during an election season.”
“It is shocking,” he summed up.
WND has documented the reasons House conservatives decided to submit a bill calling for impeachment of Koskinen, as well as their dismay over GOP leadership’s refusal to back the effort.
“I have no idea,” is how an apparently frustrated Jordan responded to WND’s question: Why won’t GOP leadership support the attempt by conservative lawmakers to impeach Koskinen?
It was an all-too-familiar script: conservative House Republicans battling not just Democrats, but their own party leadership. And conservatives speaking to the press on Capitol Hill were clearly exasperated.
“The American people get it,” Jordan said. “They are asking, ‘Why wasn’t this done a long time ago?’ The American people understand it’s a double standard, whether its (Hillary) Clinton or Koskinen.”
Huelskamp was blunt, answering WND’s question with a pair of his own questions: “Can the head of the IRS lie and get away with it?” and, “Congress must decide, does it stand with IRS or with the American people?”
“This is what it comes down to: Does the House even matter? The IRS commissioner destroyed evidence and perjured himself. Does this diminish the IRS in the public eye? Well, its reputation couldn’t get much lower,” the congressman concluded.
“This is what frustrates folks back home,” lamented Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, who was just elected in July to replace retired House Speaker John Boehner.
Davidson mused that House leadership had discovered, “If you can be ignored, you will be – and it’s time we put an end to that.”
House conservatives introduced the impeachment resolution last week because, they said, Koskinen blocked congressional efforts to investigate the IRS targeting of tea-party and other conservative groups.
Although dubbed a long shot by the establishment media, conservatives were dead serious about impeachment because, they said, the violations by the commissioner are so egregious.
In responding to WND at Tuesday’s monthly meeting with the press, called “Conversations with Conservatives,” House lawmakers time and again cited scholarly articles supporting impeachment written by columnist George Will and former federal prosecutor and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy.
When WND asked McCarthy why GOP leaders were balking, he replied, “The problem is that many of them do not understand what an impeachable offense is and why the vitality of the impeachment remedy is essential to preserving our constitutional system.
“They are also not particularly interested in educating themselves,” he added. “In Washington, it is a commonplace to avoid knowledge. If you know both the circumstances and the range of your authority to deal with them, you are expected to take action – and taking action is accountable.
“Much easier to carp about how others – the Justice Department, the FBI – are not doing their jobs, and hope nobody notices, beneath the noise, that you have superior powers to act.”
Politico reported GOP leaders “fear it (the impeachment resolution) will lower the standard for such drastic measures like impeachment in the future.”
WND asked McCarthy if he thought it would really lower the bar for impeachment.
“The IRS, the nation’s most unpopular agency, abused its awesome powers to harass and intimidate Americans for using their most precious constitutional rights, then lied to Congress and obstructed justice in covering it up,” he replied.
“How would acting on such heinous conduct ‘lower the bar’ for impeachable offenses? They are classic impeachable offenses,” marveled McCarthy.
Last week, conservatives explained to WND they felt forced to file the privileged resolution because GOP leaders, including House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., had refused to allow hearings on whether to impeach Koskinen.
Conservatives described it as a Catch-22: GOP leadership complained the privileged resolution violated “regular order” (the usual procedures) but refused to allow hearings, which would be the way to preserve the regular order.
“They (GOP leadership) all say they’re against it (the resolution) because there hasn’t been due process. But that’s because the leader of the judiciary committee won’t hold hearings,” explained Labrador before leadership reversed course.
“Koskinen is asking for all due process rights, so let’s do that and hold full hearings,” the congressman added. But then, he reflected, “I expect we’re going to be told we need due process, then told we can’t have a hearing, which is not due process.”
Labrador noted that witnesses in previous hearings, such as McCarthy and constitutional scholar and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley, had testified that Koskinen’s transgressions were serious enough to warrant impeachment. Turley, a Democrat, testified that the Obama administration was “effectively weaponizing the IRS.”
The congressman likened it to what he termed the misdeeds of former secretary of state and current Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton: Destroying evidence after it had been subpoenaed.
He also noted that in April a federal judge found the IRS was still targeting tea-party groups under Koskinen.
One of the many lawmakers who cited George Will’s op-ed published two weeks ago in the Washington Post noted the novelty of the columnist siding with conservatives over the GOP establishment.
Will’s piece was titled “Congress should impeach the IRS commissioner – or risk becoming obsolete,” and made the case that GOP leaders “ardently” want to avoid an impeachment vote because they feel “the public does not care about John Koskinen’s many misdeeds.”
However, Will argued, Congress had already forfeited its power of the purse in allowing the Obama administration to continue to run up record budget deficits and to fund its own agenda priorities, leaving impeachment as the only functional deterrence for executive overreach.
He further observed that constitutional architect James Madison interpreted the “high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment to include “maladministration,” which, Will wrote, “surely encompasses perjury and obstruction of Congress.”
Will said the idea that an IRS commissioner is not a high enough official for impeachment ignores what Turley called “the realities of the modern regulatory state.” The columnist noted, “Commissioners have authority over 90,000 employees collecting $2.5 trillion in revenues annually.”
The columnist concluded, “Refusing to impeach Koskinen would continue the passivity by which members of Congress have become, in Turley’s words, ‘agents of their own obsolescence.'”
McCarthy called for the impeachment of “the officials who carried out the IRS abuse of American citizens” as far back as June 2014, scolding Republicans: “Impeach them now, worry about prosecuting them later … and please stop whining as if you are powerless to do anything.”