Since shortly after he took over the IRS in 2013, Koskinen has been the target of House Republicans for his role in a congressional investigation into the agency’s treatment of conservative groups.
The effort to remove him from office — a rare move against a public official that has been tried by Congress only a handful of times in the last century — came days after the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the controversy over the IRS’s treatment of conservative and tea party groups that sought tax-exempt designations. The Justice Department declined to file criminal charges.
A resolution to impeach is treated like any other bill, according to congressional aides. It’s assigned to a relevant committee to determine whether grounds for impeachment exist. The panel can choose to hold a public hearing or simply hold a vote. Or not.
Like any bill, whether impeachment makes it across the first legislative hurdle is up to the committee’s leadership.
In this case, the resolution has a good chance of getting through the Judiciary panel, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Like the House, Judiciary is controlled by Republicans, who outnumber Democrats 23 to 16. A simple majority would be needed for all or some of the articles of impeachment to pass.
If they do, they would head to the House floor, where newly installed Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may or may not bring the legislation up for a vote. It he did, and it passed, it would go to the Senate.
Right now there is no timetable for any of these steps, aides said.
Many GOP members of the Judiciary panel are vocal opponents of the IRS, which has been targeted for billions of dollars in budget cuts by the House in recent years, in large part because of the scandal over tax-exempt groups.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman who is leading the impeachment campaign, also serves on Judiciary. So does Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who began the long investigation in 2013 into the targeting scandal and the IRS official at the center, Lois Lerner.
To enhance his chances of political and legislative success, Chaffetz (or rather, his staff) hand delivered copies of the impeachment articles, along with hundreds of pages of GOP-led investigations of the controversy to every member of Congress, aides said.
Chaffetz, who was joined by 18 committee Republicans in sponsoring the impeachment resolution, said Koskinen violated the public trust by stonewalling Congress in several ways. He failed to comply with a subpoena that resulted in key evidence containing thousands of Lerner’s e-mails being destroyed; failed to testify truthfully to Congress about the IRS’s handling of the e-mails and failed to notify Congress that key evidence was missing.
The IRS and the Treasury Department, its parent agency, have vigorously defended Koskinen, calling the move to impeach him “completely meritless and a distraction from important work on behalf of the American people.”
“The IRS has cooperated with all Congressional investigations and has committed to continuing to work with Congress moving forward,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement. “Secretary [Jack] Lew continues to have full confidence in Commissioner Koskinen.”
No Cabinet officer has been impeached by the House since Secretary of War William Belknap was removed in 1876 even though he resigned during the proceedings.
A group of hard-line conservative House Republicans introduced a resolution in 2013 calling for the impeachment of former Attorney General Eric Holder, but it did not move forward.