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House To Hold Impeachment Hearing Against IRS Commissioner

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen.

A deal struck late Wednesday postponed what could have been a politically tricky vote Thursday on the House floor: a resolution calling for the impeachment of Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a faction of the House's most conservative members, are driving the effort to oust Koskinen, who has served at the helm of the embattled agency since late 2013. His term expires in November 2017.

The IRS has been subjected to congressional scrutiny and punitive budget cuts since a 2013 scandal in which the agency acknowledged it had targeted for extra scrutiny political groups seeking tax-exempt status. Most of the groups were right-leaning or affiliated with the Tea Party movement.

Koskinen did not work at the IRS when the scandal took place. He came to the job tasked with improving the agency's image, but those efforts quickly went awry after it was discovered e-mail servers with data requested by congressional investigators had been erased.

Koskinen has never been charged with any wrongdoing but conservatives say he obstructed a congressional investigation and provided Congress with inaccurate information.

That was reason enough for some Republicans to argue that impeachment is warranted. But party leaders and key chairmen felt otherwise. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, who has jurisdiction over the IRS, has not embraced the impeachment effort. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte held two hearings on the issue, but Koskinen never appeared and the effort stalled in committee.

In order to force the House to act, conservative Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and John Fleming, R-La., introduced a privileged resolution on Tuesday calling for impeachment. House Rules require a vote on such a resolution within two days.

Many Republicans were wary of the optics of an impeachment vote weeks from an election and in the absence of an agreement on how to fund the government or provide additional funds to combat the spread of the Zika. Some lawmakers have also raised concerns that pursuing impeachment in this case would lower the bar for future impeachment cases and set a potentially dangerous new precedent.

To head off that vote, the House Judiciary Committee announced late Wednesday that the panel will hold a hearing next Wednesday on the case for impeachment. This time, Koskinen is expected to testify.

There is a loose agreement that the hearing will head off any impeachment vote ahead of Election Day. But conservatives pushing for impeachment have warned that it is still on the table.

The IRS released this statement in response to the hearing: "We learned of this unexpected development very late last night from the Judiciary Committee. We are reaching out today to the committee to discuss the timing of the hearing, which we understand would be a preliminary hearing rather than a formal impeachment proceeding."

Koskinen, 77, has led a distinguished public career to date. He has worked at the Office of Management and Budget and chaired President Clinton's committee on Y2K preparedness in 2000. He also served as chairman at Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage backer.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.

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