- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2015

Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Monday called on President Obama to oust Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen for obstructing the investigation into the tax agency’s targeting of conservative groups.

If the president refuses, Chairman Jason Chaffetz warned, the committee will actively pursue contempt charges and an impeachment proceeding to remove Mr. Koskinen, who he said gave assurances the IRS would save email key to the investigation at the same time the emails were being destroyed.

“The reality is what he said was false. He repeatedly made false statements,” Mr. Chaffetz said at a Capitol Hill press conference, where he was joined by more than a dozen fellow Republicans from the committee.

“Mr. Koskinen should no longer be the IRS commissioner,” said Mr. Chaffetz, Utah Republican. “Mr. Koskinen failed in his duty to preserve and produce documentation to this committee.”

The White House did not immediately respond, but the IRS defended Mr. Koskinen.

“The record is clear that the IRS and Commissioner Koskinen have been cooperative and truthful with the numerous investigations underway. The agency has produced more than one million pages of documents in support of the investigations, provided 52 current and former employees for interviews and participated in more than 30 Congressional hearings on these issues,” the agency said in a statement.

The IRS pledged to continue to cooperate with the committee’s probe and to make “additional improvements in our operations and processes.”

Mr. Obama appointed Mr. Koskinen to run the IRS in 2013 in response to the targeting scandal, bringing him in to clean up the agency.

And yet, the committee’s investigation of the targeting scandal has been stymied by the failure of the IRS to turn over emails from Lois G. Lerner, who ran the tax-exempt organizations unit responsible for the targeting and whose computer hard drive was destroyed in 2011 at the height of the targeting.

Ms. Lerner, who retired in Sept. 2013 after being placed on administrative leave, invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when called to testify before the committee, which made her email records all the more vital to investigators’ efforts to uncover who was involved in the targeting and what were their motivations.

The committee’s allegations against Mr. Koskinen, outlined in a 30-page letter to Mr. Obama and in a 10-minute video the committee posted online, include the tax agency’s failure to comply with a congressional subpoena, Mr. Koskinen’s false testimony regarding the preservation of email records and the agency’s efforts to produce them.

Mr. Chaffetz said that the committee had determined that Ms. Lerner’s emails could have been recovered, but backup tapes containing up to 24,000 of her emails were destroyed as Mr. Koskinen gave the committee assurances that all records were being preserved and every effort was being made to locate the saved emails.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said the call for the president to oust Mr. Koskinen was a “manufactured Republican political crisis.”

“This is a strange, oddly-timed rehashing of conspiracy theories that were debunked by the Inspector General himself — who concluded in a report to the Oversight Committee just last month that there is no evidence to substantiate these claims,” Mr. Cummings said in a statement.

“The bottom-line is that the Inspector General found no evidence to back-up Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement, or intentional destruction of evidence. Calls for Commissioner Koskinen to step down are nothing more than a manufactured Republican political crisis based on allegations that have already been debunked,” said the Maryland Democrat.

The IRS inspector general concluded that the agency did in fact target conservative and tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny, and the Justice Department is still conducting a criminal investigation into the targeting.

Mr. Chaffetz noted that not only did the destruction of 24,000 potential emails occur after the materials were under subpoena, but also after the agency’s chief technology officer issued a preservation notice ordering employees not to destroy anything.

The chief technology officer later told the committee that he was “blown away” that backup tapes were destroyed 10 months after his preservation notice.

What’s more, the IRS chief auditor, in a June 2015 report, confirmed the IRS destroyed documents and misled Congress about the agency’s efforts in complying with congressional subpoenas.

Despite Mr. Koskinen’s testimony to the committee that the IRS had spent $18 million attempting to retrieve Ms. Lerner’s email, the agency only examined her destroyed hard drive and did not search other places that likely contained copies of the email, including her BlackBerry, backup tapes, server drives and server backup tapes or the laptop computer provided to Ms. Lerner, according to testimony before the committee.

“I believe we have given the IRS sufficient chance to come clean. They have not come clean. They have misled the American people,” said Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming Republican. “It is time for accountability.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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