|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Commissioner Koskinen, for joining us today on short notice, under these unusual circumstances.
Last week, a handful of my colleagues attempted to force a vote on your impeachment. When it appeared that they would fall short of the necessary votes, that effort was abandoned—and this hearing was scheduled instead.
I hope that my colleagues now see what I see when I look back at the history of impeachment in the House of Representatives: No matter how we feel about a particular official, no matter what we think about his or her agency, successful impeachments are bipartisan efforts—and partisan attacks cloaked in the impeachment process are doomed from the start.
Mr. Chairman, the effort to impeach Commissioner Koskinen is destined to fail both on the merits and as a matter of process. And if they somehow force this measure to the floor again, I fear it will set a terrible precedent.
On the merits, the Commissioner’s critics simply have not proved their case. In fact, every other investigation to have examined these facts has refuted the charges against Commissioner Koskinen.
The Senate Finance Committee, in a report that serves as the only bipartisan account of the matter, found no evidence that the Commissioner had intent to mislead Congress at any time.
The Department of Justice “found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives,” and “no evidence that any official . . . attempted to obstruct justice.”
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found no evidence to show “that IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress.”
Despite these findings, some Members continue to insist that the Commissioner “ordered 24,000 emails erased before Congress could review them.” Citing “zero evidence” to back the claim, independent fact checkers rate this statement as categorically false. There is simply no evidence that the Commissioner has acted with intentional bad faith in his leadership of the Internal Revenue Service.
But even if there were some evidence of wrongdoing, the push to impeach the Commissioner on the House floor without even basic due process in the Committee is wildly misguided.
According to Parliamentarians of the House past and present, the impeachment process does not begin until the House actually votes to authorize this Committee to investigate the charges.
In other words: this is not an impeachment hearing. Merely including the word “impeachment” in the title doesn’t do the job. At an actual impeachment hearing, the Commissioner would be represented by counsel. He would have the right to present evidence, and the right to question the evidence presented against him.
In this case, by contrast, the Commissioner has been denied access to the transcripts of interviews conducted by the House Oversight Committee—even though we are told that those transcripts were key in forming the charges against him. Many members of this Committee are in the same position, I might add.
I am not alone in being skeptical of short process, or in noting the importance of a full and independent investigation by this Committee.
In 2006, Mr. Sensenbrenner argued: “only after the House Judiciary Committee has conducted a fair, thorough, and detailed investigation, will Committee members be able to consider whether articles of impeachment might be warranted.”
In 2010, Mr. Chairman, you expressed confidence in our Impeachment Task Force because it had conducted “an exhaustive investigation.”
That investigation included, in your words: “reviewing the records of past proceedings, rooting out new evidence that was never considered in previous investigations, conducting numerous interviews and depositions with firsthand witnesses, and conducting hearings to take the testimony of firsthand witnesses and scholars.”
All of that process is missing here. Yes, we have it within our power to skip these steps—but what kind of precedent does that set?
Never, in the history of this body, have we impeached a government official without first proving he has acted in deliberate bad faith.
Never, in modern practice, have we declined to provide the accused with the most basic due process: the right to counsel, the right to present evidence, and the right to question the evidence against him.
If the Commissioner’s critics have their way, I fear we will have a new rule going forward:
The House may impeach any government official, for any reason, without supplying evidence of deliberate wrongdoing, without an independent investigation, and without regard to basic fairness towards the accused.
Forcing a vote in this manner will certainly not result in the removal of the Commissioner. Even if his critics succeed here, Senators of both parties have already stated their intent to bury the matter.
And in the process, I fear, we will have stripped our responsibilities of their weight and dignity, and turned impeachment from a constitutional check of last resort into a tool of political convenience.
I cannot accept that. None of us should. Commissioner Koskinen, thank you again for your willingness to be here today. Stick to the law and the facts and you’ll be fine.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.
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