Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Hearing on “Examining the Allegations of Misconduct Against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, Part I”

In the history of the Republic, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach a federal official only 19 times. I served on this Committee to consider six of those 19 resolutions.  I voted in favor of five of them.  And I helped to draft articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon—and joined with 20 Democrats and six Republicans—to send three of those articles to the House floor. The lessons I draw from these experiences are hard earned.

To begin with, the power of impeachment is a solemn responsibility—entrusted to the House of Representatives by the Constitution, and to this Committee by our peers.  The formal impeachment process is not to be joined lightly.  We do not rush into impeachment for short term political gain.

Second, before we can approve any resolution of impeachment, it is our responsibility to prove the underlying allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Once the House authorizes us to do so, we must carefully and independently review the evidence—even if it has already been analyzed by our colleagues on other committees.  And we can only address allegations that are actually supported by the record.  We cannot infer wrongdoing from the facts.  We have to prove it.

Finally, a successful impeachment process must transcend party lines. The Framers knew this.  Article I of the Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate to convict on each article of impeachment.

The public knows this too.  When this Committee comes together and decides unanimously to remove a federal officer, our constituents know that we take the job seriously. 

When a vote for impeachment is divided on party lines—as it was on one occasion in my service to this Committee—we undermine our credibility and make it all but impossible to secure conviction in the Senate.

Mr. Chairman, we are here today because a small group of members wants us to take up H. Res. 494, a resolution to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. This resolution fails by every measure.  It arises from the worst partisan instincts.  It is not based in the facts.  And it has virtually no chance of success in the Senate.

Commissioner Koskinen is a good and decent civil servant.  He took office months after the so-called “targeting scandal” had concluded.  He then undertook a massive effort to respond to each of the investigations into the matter.

We are here today to consider the allegation that the Commissioner deliberately misled Congress as part of those efforts. The claim is not that we disagree with his decisions, or that we question the speed and completeness with which his agency provided answers—but that he knowingly and intentionally supplied us with false information.

Mr. Chairman, the record simply does not support this charge.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration investigated these allegations.  He concluded: “No evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, the DOJ, or the Inspector General.”

In addition, career investigators at the Department of Justice also looked into these claims. They also found “no evidence that any official involved in the handling of the tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice.” It is no wonder, then, that we have read reports of Speaker Ryan doing his best to make certain this measure never reaches the floor of the House—as Speaker Boehner did before him. It is also not a surprise that many in the Republican conference have been critical of the strong-arm tactics that forced this hearing.

Representative Boustany, Chairman for the Subcommittee on Tax Policy, has argued that this hearing is a waste of time and potentially damaging to our priorities.  He told reporters last week: “If we do this, it’s going to further delay the investigation.  I think it’s time to move on.” Senator Orrin Hatch, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said that there is simply no interest in impeachment in the Senate—where a two-thirds vote would be required for conviction. When asked about Commissioner Koskinen, Senator Hatch said: “We have a very different experience with him.  We can have our disagreements with him, but that doesn’t mean that there’s an impeachable offense.”  He added: “[F]or the most part, he’s been very cooperative with us.”

To summarize, Mr. Chairman: the proposed articles of impeachment have been debunked by independent investigators.  The resolution faces stiff, bipartisan opposition in the House, and even worse odds in the Senate. There are precious few working days left in this Congress, Mr. Chairman.  I am disappointed that we plan to spend, not just today, but an additional day in June discussing these unsubstantiated claims.

If at all possible, Mr. Chairman, please consider returning that second day to the substantive work of this Committee.  In any event, I urge you to lead us past this distraction quickly, and back to work of some actual benefit to the American people. I yield back the balance of my time.    

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