As the House Judiciary Committee on Monday began its debate on whether to impeach IRS commissioner John Koskinen on charges that he lied under oath to Congress, and defied a congressional subpoena, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he thinks Republicans "have a good case" against him.
Speaking to a group of conservative activists and pastors on a weekly conference call hosted by former Virginia lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson, the congressman said it was important that people "never forget what happened here."
"The IRS targeted people for their political beliefs," Jordan said, referring to alleged IRS activities that delayed and unduly burdened tea party and other groups from obtaining nonprofit status.
The head of the IRS's nonprofit oversight arm at the time, Lois Lerner, was the object of repeated congressional inquiries into how she handled nonprofit applications from these groups, and whether they were singled out for harassment.
Congress issued a subpoena for Lerner's emails relating to the groups, but was told her hard drive had crashed, destroying nearly two years' worth of messages.
An IRS inspector general investigation later found back-ups of Lerner's files, in addition to numerous other documents Koskinen testified either did not exist or had been destroyed.
Jordan said these actions point to more than just bureaucratic bungling. "Our right to speak in a political nature, and not be harassed for doing so," was violated, he said.
He said that, as IRS commissioner, Koskinen "had a duty to preserve documents under subpoena" and failed to do so.
"Every single duty, he breached," Jordan said, adding that "no private taxpayer would be able to get away with what the IRS did without having some consequences."
He put the movement to impeach Koskinen into a larger political context, describing it as "the best way we can begin to push back an out-of-control executive branch."
Impeachment of a high ranking administration official, he said, is "a remedy that hasn’t been used very often."
But Jordan said the move, while rare, was necessary to demonstrate Congress will "stand up and do exactly what we told the people back home we were going to do."
Koskinen declined to appear before the Judiciary Committee. In a letter sent to committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on Monday, Koskinen said his travel schedule did not allow him "sufficient time to prepare and appear in person" at the hearing.
Koskinen did say he was "willing to appear before the Committee in the future."
In prepared remarks Koskinen forwarded along with his letter, the IRS commissioner called the charges against him "without merit," while acknowledging the "strong feelings" and "understandable frustration" some House members have had with the agency's "document production and retention challenges."
Koskinen added that "none of my actions" in the handling of IRS documents or his congressional testimony comes close to warranting impeachment.
Impeaching him, he said, "would set an unfortunate precedent, diminishing the ability of the Federal government to attract experienced, dedicated people to positions of leadership."
"That would be a great loss for the government and for the country," he added.
According to the political website Ballotpedia, the last non-presidential impeachment of an executive-branch official was in 1876, when William Belknap was impeached for "criminally disregarding his duty as Secretary of War and basely prostituting his high office to his lust for private gain."
The Senate acquitted Belknap of all charges.