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Top House Republican moves to censure IRS chief

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, left, and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. (AP photos)
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Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, raising the stakes in the GOP war against the tax collector days before a hearing on whether to impeach him.

The four-page resolution seeks Koskinen’s resignation or removal by President Obama and calls on the IRS chief to forfeit his federal pension. A censure vote is warranted because Koskinen failed to comply with a congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of conservative groups, the document says. It accuses him of conduct “incompatible with his duties and inconsistent with the trust and confidence placed in him as an officer of the United States.”

[Impeachment hearings are latest victory in conservative war against the IRS]

“I am committed to using every tool at my disposal to hold Mr. Koskinen responsible for his offenses toward Congress and toward the American people,” Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement.

Even if it passed the House in the limited number of legislative days left on the congressional calendar, a censure vote would not force Koskinen from office. But it would underscore conservatives’ dislike for the tax agency and the man Obama appointed in 2013 to clean up the damage after an uproar over the treatment of conservative groups.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled Tuesday to consider articles of impeachment against Koskinen, a measure that Chaffetz — backed by the House’s caucus of hard-right lawmakers — introduced in October. Chaffetz told The Washington Post in April that he would pursue a censure vote as a precursor to impeachment, which is a much harder sell politically.

[Inside the GOP campaign to impeach the IRS chief]

Democrats have called the impeachment and censure efforts election-year posturing. On Wednesday, the oversight committee’s top Democrat said the case against Koskinen was “baseless.”

“We have so many more critical things to do in Congress, and we should be focusing on those urgent issues rather than this pointless exercise, which will go nowhere in the Senate,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) said in a statement.

He said the House’s far-right members “have to be satisfied with wasting time and money going after the commissioner’s pension — even though he came out of retirement to take on this thankless task.” Koskinen had retired from a private-sector career when Obama tapped him for the IRS job.

The effort to oust the tax chief stems from 2013, when the IRS inspector general reported that the agency’s tax-exempt division gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations. Partisan hearings and investigations by Congress followed.

Republicans have long accused Koskinen of covering up staff mistakes in providing information to House investigators, who asked for emails written by the central official in the scandal, Lois Lerner. The GOP says Koskinen erased backup computer files containing thousands of emails written by Lerner. Koskinen had told lawmakers that his staff turned over all of the relevant emails. When some were found to be missing, he said they were unrecoverable.

The Justice Department closed a lengthy investigation of the case in the fall without filing criminal charges. Justice officials said they had not found evidence that the IRS was intentionally biased against conservative groups when it set aside their applications for extra scrutiny.

The censure measure also accuses Koskinen of failing to testify honestly before lawmakers when under oath and delaying notifying Congress that many of Lerner’s emails were missing.

[Top Republican to IRS chief: You say you’re broke. How can you afford 700 new employees? ]

Chaffetz says 68 of his House colleagues have signed on to the impeachment measure.

Koskinen has not decided whether to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday; his staff is in talks with the Judiciary Committee over the format of the hearing, IRS officials said.