The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to effectively put an end an effort by hard-line conservatives to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John A. Koskinen.
Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus accused Koskinen of presiding over the IRS when the agency destroyed computer backups containing thousands of emails sought by a House committee investigating political targeting at the agency. No evidence emerged to implicate Koskinen in a coverup, but conservatives said he should be held accountable for the misstep regardless.
“John Koskinen has been able to get away with stonewalling Congress, obstructing justice, and breaching the public trust,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Freedom Caucus chairman, said Tuesday. “It’s time that Congress held him accountable for his actions.”
Jordan rose in the House on Tuesday evening to offer a privileged resolution calling for Koskinen’s impeachment, but it was immediately subject to a Democratic motion to table, which failed, and a Republican motion to refer it to the House Judiciary Committee, which has held three hearings on Koskinen but has not moved forward with impeachment.
The motion to refer the impeachment resolution passed 342-72, with 166 Republicans joining 176 Democrats to bottle up the measure. Republican leaders have opposed the impeachment push, fearing it would set a harmful precedent but also that a weeks-long Senate impeachment trial might hold up President-elect Donald Trump’s early-term agenda.
“The majority of the House voted to refer this matter to the Judiciary Committee consistent with regular order because it would have triggered automatic consideration lasting into next year, filling up weeks of floor time and crippling our ability to hit the ground running on Trump administration confirmations and Obamacare repeal,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said on the House floor that more scrutiny was needed to address “differences of opinion” among House members on whether to impeach Koskinen, censure him or avoid sanctioning him entirely.
At a hearing in September, called in response to conservatives’ demands, Koskinen called the destruction of the emails an “honest mistake” and told lawmakers that pursuing his impeachment would send the wrong message. “It would create disincentives for many good people to serve,” he said. “And it would slow the pace of reform and progress at the IRS.”
Koskinen’s five-year term will not expire until late 2018, though Trump could replace Koskinen at any time once he is inaugurated.
Koskinen’s lawyer, Reg Brown, said in a statement Tuesday that the conservatives’ effort to bring impeachment articles directly to the House floor overturned centuries of congressional precedent.
“Our founders provided the Congress with impeachment authority to be used only in the most serious of circumstances,” he said. “Introducing an impeachment resolution with no formal impeachment hearings in the closing hours of the Congress is not a serious proposal and should be opposed.”