WASHINGTON – Conservatives are pushing to force an election-season House vote on impeaching IRS chief John Koskinen, despite misgivings by many Republicans and solid Democratic opposition that means Congress lacks the votes to ultimately remove him from office.
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Some Republicans argue that an impeachment vote two months before elections risked irritating voters, while others said Koskinen deserved a full House Judiciary Committee probe before embarking on the seldom-used impeachment process. But pursuing the IRS is an issue dear to many conservative voters and Rep. John Fleming, R-La., a sponsor of the drive, said in an interview that the House should plunge ahead.
"I can't imagine why anybody would want to put politics over the important work that we do, which is to hold accountable high-level officials," he said Monday.
Fleming said he planned to formally offer the resolution Tuesday with a rarely used procedure that would require a vote by Thursday. Republicans plan to hold a closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss strategy on the divisive issue.
The effort flows from the IRS' 2013 admission that for several years, it had targeted tea party groups seeking tax exemptions for rigorous examinations. Many Republicans have felt the IRS' actions were politically motivated, though investigators have never found evidence of that.
Koskinen did not join the IRS until the end of that year. But House Republicans accuse him of thwarting their investigation of the agency's actions by not providing all emails subpoenaed by Congress, lying about the IRS's destruction of emails and making little effort to recover the lost documents.
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Koskinen and his Democratic allies say he did nothing wrong and provided Congress with all the information he had and knew about. They note that the IRS' inspector general concluded that agency employees accidentally erased IRS tapes with backup documents, and that the inspector general and Justice Department found no evidence that the IRS acted against tea party groups for political reasons.
"The impeachment resolution is riddled with factual errors and omissions and is based on flawed characterizations of law and events," background papers released by Koskinen's personal lawyers said.
The impeachment effort is being engineered by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which Fleming is among about 40 members. The resolution is sponsored by Fleming, who is in a competitive Senate race, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who will be leaving Congress after recently losing the GOP primary for his seat.
House GOP leaders have taken no active role in the impeachment drive and have noted that Republicans are divided.
"It's stupid," Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., also in a tight re-election battle, said Monday. "It's a purely political show vote. There are other ways to admonish officials we believe have lied to us."
The House needs only a simple majority vote to impeach a federal official, the equivalent of an indictment. The Senate then holds a trial and needs a two-thirds majority to find the official guilty and remove him or her from office.
Even if the issue reaches the Senate, Democrats and the two independents who back them hold 46 of its 100 seats and would be certain to block a guilty verdict. With Senate control at stake in the November elections, Republican leaders have shown little appetite to tackle impeachment.
Many don't expect Koskinen's case to get that far. The House could vote to kill the impeachment resolution or assign it to the House Judiciary Committee — in effect submerging the issue until after the presidential and congressional elections.
House Democrats are expected to solidly vote to back Koskinen. If all representatives vote, that would mean that just 31 of the 246 House Republicans would have to join Democrats to derail the impeachment effort.