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House Panel Hearings May Lead To Impeachment Of IRS Commissioner

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And there is talk of a possible impeachment here in Washington, D.C. The person whose job is at risk is John Koskinen. He's commissioner of the IRS. Hearings are beginning today in the House Judiciary Committee. Congressional Republicans say Koskinen gave false testimony and that, under his watch, the IRS destroyed the subpoenaed emails of a former IRS official. Now, Democrats say all of this is a political sideshow. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: This all dates back several years ago when Republicans charged the IRS-targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status for extra scrutiny. The IRS later apologized, and the official involved, Lois Lerner, resigned, as did the then IRS commissioner. Koskinen was appointed to, in President Obama's words, restore confidence in the agency. Congressional Republicans, however, say Koskinen has done just the opposite. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, is leading the efforts to oust the commissioner.

JASON CHAFFETZ: He provided false testimony to Congress. He misled Congress. He actively misled Congress. That is a crime. It is not something we take lightly. And if Congress is going to stand up for itself, we should impeach him. And we're going to make that case and answer questions.

NAYLOR: Chaffetz says when Koskinen was asked to provide lawmakers with Lois Lerner's emails, he falsely testified they had all been released and then was in charge when the IRS destroyed the communications. Democrats say this is all a partisan witch hunt by Republicans. White House spokesman Josh Earnest defended the IRS commissioner.

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JOSH EARNEST: John Koskinen has assumed a very difficult task. And that task has been made only more difficult by the false accusations of Republicans and by the continued insistence of Republicans to cut the budget for the IRS.

NAYLOR: The last time Congress tried to impeach an administration official other than the president was in 1876. Chaffetz argues Republican lawmakers have no alternative but to seek Koskinen's removal.

CHAFFETZ: When the administration themselves will do nothing about this, there are very few remedies to Congress. We did cut the IRS budget. But they took it out on the American taxpayers. They didn't solve the problem. And I think changing of management is the one thing that we actually can participate and do by ourselves. And in this case, we should do it.

NAYLOR: Republican leaders of the Senate, which would have to vote to convict Koskinen if the House goes ahead with impeachment, have shown no interest in pursuing the matter. Koskinen himself will not be at today's hearing. Instead, he sent a letter to the panel saying the allegations against him are without merit. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.