Republican leaders managed to derail impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Tuesday, forcing the debate back to a committee for more study, where it will die when Congress adjourns at the end of this year.
It was a quiet end to a saga that had bedeviled GOP leaders for more than a year, dating back to revelations that Mr. Koskinen misled a congressional investigation looking into the tea party-targeting scandal and former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner’s lost emails.
Conservatives had been agitating for impeachment, saying Mr. Koskinen should be punished for defying a subpoena and providing inaccurate information.
Some Republicans sought a lesser penalty, such as censure, while Democrats said the entire impeachment drive was misdirected. Those two sides joined forces Tuesday in a 342-72 vote that sent the debate back to the Judiciary Committee.
“Members have different opinions about what to do,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the committee, as he asked lawmakers to give him a chance to sort things out.
But with lawmakers looking to clear out of town this week, the move essentially kills the impeachment drive in this Congress.
Mr. Koskinen’s term runs through November, meaning that, unlike other political appointees, he will remain even after President Obama leaves office Jan. 20.
Whether conservatives try again early next year, amid a series of new fights over President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda, remains to be seen — but the impeachment effort’s leaders were disheartened by the vote.
“I am disappointed,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican. “We just referred the resolution to the committee, where it has been for 18 months, so that is wonderful.”
The tea party-targeting took place before Mr. Koskinen’s tenure, and he was brought in to clean up the agency after it admitted to the wrongful practice.
However, during the investigations into the targeting, Congress discovered that emails from Ms. Lerner, the key figure in the investigation, had gone missing. Hundreds of backup tapes containing some of the messages were deleted even though they were subject to a preservation order and subpoena from Congress.
Despite that, Mr. Koskinen assured lawmakers that all of her messages were being saved and produced.
At an impeachment hearing earlier this year, Mr. Koskinen pleaded for his job, insisting at a hearing that the attacks on him were “improper.”
He admitted that he did give inaccurate information to Congress in the Lerner investigation, but said it was inadvertent and said he’d helped the agency clean up its act in the wake of the tea party scandal.
The commissioner also warned that the fate of the civil service was riding on the outcome of his case, saying that if he, a veteran of several government jobs, was taken down, others would be discouraged from joining the federal workforce.
Democrats said the accusations against Mr. Koskinen were misguided, and said he was cleared by the IRS’ internal auditor, Inspector General J. Russell George, the Republican appointee who first exposed the tea party targeting.
Mr. George concluded that the deletion of the backup tapes was done by low-level employees at a computer facility in West Virginia, and his auditors found no evidence that anyone directed the erasure, nor that they intended to interfere with the investigation.
“In order to vote in favor of this resolution today, you have to believe that the Republican inspector general of the IRS is essentially lying,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.
Impeachment is the process of bringing charges against an executive branch official, and it takes a majority vote in the House. If someone is impeached, the Senate then holds a trial in which it takes a two-thirds vote to remove the official from office.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said even though Republicans decided against impeachment, Mr. Koskinen’s reputation had been ruined.
“No matter what happens here, they got their pound of flesh, because when his grandkids Google Grandpa’s name, they are going to see the words ‘high crimes and misdemeanors and impeachment,’ as if Grandpa did something wrong. When in fact Grandpa did nothing wrong.”