Impeachment Hearing for IRS Chief to Begin on Wednesday
After several House Republicans called for a vote to impeach Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen last week, a formal impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee will begin on Wednesday. The IRS chief is accused of misleading Congress regarding the IRS’s use of “‘inappropriate’ criteria … to flag tea party-type groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.” Notably, Koskinen did not head the IRS at the time of the flagging. The impeachment proceedings focus on his statements to Congress about destruction of evidence relating to the scandal. Scholars’ protest of the Congressional effort to impeach Koskinen could influence Congress in its decision. In a recent letter to the House majority and minority leaders, constitutional law professors cite the lack of historical precedent for impeachment of a sub-Cabinet official, which has never happened, in urging Congress to forego impeachment. Moreover, the letter notes that Congress has impeached an executive branch official besides the president only once, when it voted to impeach Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876 for alleged corruption and receiving kickbacks. The only others who have been impeached are presidents and federal judges, who cannot be removed from office otherwise.
In addition, scholars claim that impeachment of the IRS chief could set a “dangerous precedent” for future proceedings, in particular noting that Koskinen’s actions “do not assert bad faith, intentional dishonesty, an abuse of power, or anything akin to the kind of serious misconduct that has historically and traditionally been understood to qualify as an impeachable offense under our Constitution”.
Some politicians, including the president and notable Republican and Democratic leaders, decry the impeachment effort as well. They called the attempt to force a vote last week a “nakedly political” grasp for power that bypassed the House Judiciary Committee. However, this week’s hearing will still go forward. Currently, Koskinen is the only scheduled witness at the hearing, set for Wednesday, September 21st.
— By Julia Damron, Esq., Barnes Law
Julia Damron is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
 Gershman, Jacob, “Scholars Say Impeaching IRS Commissioner Would Set Dangerous Precedent “, Wall St. J. Law Blog, Sept. 13, 2016, http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2016/09/13/scholars-say-impeaching-irs-commissioner-would-set-dangerous-precedent/; http://www.barneslawllp.com/irs-chief-faces-possible-impeachment/; http://www.barneslawllp.com/sixth-circuit-admonishes-irs/; see also http://www.barneslawllp.com/irs-cried-wolf/.
 Huetteman, Emmarie, “House Calls Off Vote to Impeach I.R.S. Chief in Favor of Formal Hearing”, N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/us/politics/house-impeach-irs-john-koskinen.html.
 http://www.barneslawllp.com/irs-chief-faces-possible-impeachment/; Gershman, supra.
 Letter from Michael C. Dorf, et al. to Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, Sept. 7, 2016, available at: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/2016_0912_koskinen_letter_scholars.pdf.
 Letter from Michael C. Dorf, et al., supra.
 Huetteman, supra.