IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has declined to testify in his own defense at a congressional hearing Tuesday, but insisted in a statement that his agency’s bungling of a subpoena doesn’t rise to the level of “treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors” needed for him to be impeached.
The Judiciary Committee hearing is being viewed by some House Republicans as the precursor to impeachment, with the House’s top investigator saying Mr. Koskinen defied a congressional order that demanded all of former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner’s emails be preserved as part of an investigation into tea party targeting.
But Mr. Koskinen, who said his schedule is too crowded for him to be able to appear on Tuesday, said the allegations against him are “unwarranted,” and no matter what, they don’t rise to the level of impeachment.
In a point-by-point refutation of the four counts of potential impeachment, Mr. Koskinen says he “acted in good faith” and was telling the truth as best he knew it when he told Congress all of the emails were preserved. He said he only became aware later that emails were lost after Ms. Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed and backup tapes stored at an IRS facility in West Virginia were erased.
“The IRS made great efforts to produce all available Lerner emails, conducting a broad search at substantial expense. The breadth of the IRS’s efforts illustrates the good faith underlying the promise to comply with the committee’s request,” he said in his statement.
He said his monthslong delay in informing Congress of the Lerner hard drive crash was because he wanted to investigate the matter within the IRS first, before making “a full and timely report” to watchdogs.
And Mr. Koskinen, who took over at the agency in late 2013 in the wake of the targeting scandal, insisted he has no reason to obstruct investigations into the IRS’s actions, nor to protect Ms. Lerner.
“When I came to the IRS, I knew no one who worked at the agency, and to this day I have never met or spoken to former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner,” Mr. Koskinen said.
Two Republicans are slated to testify Tuesday to make the case for punishing Mr. Koskinen: House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican and a member of the Oversight Committee.
Democrats are allowed to invite a witness but had not recruited one as of Monday afternoon.
Mr. Chaffetz last week introduced legislation to censure Mr. Koskinen, calling it the first step on the path to impeachment.
“Mr. Koskinen must be held accountable for his misconduct,” the congressman said at the time.
The White House has stood by its man throughout, offering a new round of support for him last week as questions of impeachment and censure were raised.
And Mr. Koskinen has maintained support among congressional Democrats who say he appears to have done the best job possible of handling a troubled agency in the midst of funding cuts.
Impeachment, which requires a vote of the full house, is just the first step in removing a federal official. If the House, by a majority vote, approves articles of impeachment, it goes to a trial in the Senate, where it takes a two-thirds vote to convict and someone and remove him or her from office.
Mr. Koskinen, in his letter declining to appear Tuesday, said his schedule is too crowded this week — including an appearance before another committee Wednesday — but said he’d be willing to come back later.
Still, the commissioner said impeachment is a “rare” tool and should only be used on the worst of offenders. He said those calling for making him an example risk chasing good people from public service in the future, and cautioned against the House moving hastily toward censure or impeachment,
“I hope that it will do so in a manner consistent with the House’s long-standing concern for, and provision of, the due process that must attend such a serious course of action,” he said.