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House Republicans Divided Over Impeachment Of IRS Commissioner


Some Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing to impeach the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. Conservatives have targeted the IRS since 2013. That's when the agency admitted that in the past, it had scrutinized certain political groups - most of them conservative - who were seeking tax exempt status. But the commissioner, John Koskinen, wasn't even at the IRS back then. NPR's Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: For a man accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was unusually sunny after meeting with House Republicans who'd like to impeach him.

JOHN KOSKINEN: Now, I've just responded to inquiries and questions that they had, which I was delighted to do. I was happy to be invited.

DAVIS: Koskinen was on Capitol Hill this week to personally make his case for why he does not deserve to be impeached. But more than 80 House Republicans have indicated they feel otherwise, and they're pushing for a vote as early as next week. North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows is one of them.

MARK MEADOWS: For me, it's all about making sure that somebody is held accountable. And if that happens, it'll be a good start in Washington, D.C.

DAVIS: On Koskinen's watch, the IRS destroyed email evidence Congress wanted in relation to that 2013 IRS scandal. He then made false statements to Congress regarding the destruction of that evidence, but Koskinen has never been charged with any wrongdoing. Investigators concluded there was no criminal intent, and he wasn't working at the IRS when the scandal came to light in the first place. That's why this impeachment push is dividing Republicans. Pennsylvania's Charlie Dent says it's not clear to him the punishment fits the crime.

CHARLIE DENT: I would be very concerned about taking an extremely serious matter like this and just throwing it on the floor in the form of a privileged resolution.

DAVIS: In a 2015 letter to Congress regarding the IRS scandal, the Justice Department declared, quote, "ineffective management is not a crime." But that conclusion fuels conservatives' anger. Idaho Republican Raul Labrador says Koskinen's tenure at the IRS is part of a bigger frustration at the federal government.

RAUL LABRADOR: Because for eight years, this administration has gotten away with doing things that were outside of the Constitution, that were beyond their constitutional authority. The American people are fed up with that. And you watched an agency like the IRS directly target conservatives. And they admitted that they targeted conservatives, and nobody was punished.

DAVIS: House Speaker Paul Ryan has not personally embraced the impeachment effort. He's trying to find common ground within his party.

PAUL RYAN: You have members on both sides of this - members on the Judiciary Committee on both sides of this issue. And this is something where the conference is going to work its will.

DAVIS: Party leaders would like to resolve this political hot potato in committee, but committee chairmen want leadership to resolve it. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte held two hearings earlier this year, but he's shown no interest in moving forward with an impeachment resolution.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, who has jurisdiction over the IRS, playfully dodged an impeachment question before dodging reporters this way.

KEVIN BRADY: Ways and Means Committee's been focused so far on, in effect, impeaching the current tax code and actually making it work to grow America. So - thanks. Excuse me.

DAVIS: Since the committees won't act, some Republicans want to circumvent them and force that showdown on the House floor. Koskinen and his defenders warn that passing an impeachment resolution like this would set a dangerous new precedent and lower the threshold for impeachable offenses. Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer says impeachment could create another problem.

EARL BLUMENAUER: Going down this impeachment path will make it harder to recruit somebody for the hardest job in government.

DAVIS: For some House Republicans, that could be a good thing. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.