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IRS misconduct case prompts lawmaker to push for independent counsel law

A Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, part of the committee considering an impeachment of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, is introducing legislation to re-authorize the use of independent counsels to prosecute certain government-corruption cases.

Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania said during the congressional hearing on alleged misconduct by Koskinen that the appointment of an independent counsel, or special prosecutor, would allow lawmakers another avenue to address conflicts between the executive and legislative branches.

“As a result of what has taken place with the IRS, and how untruthful they’ve been, I am personally moving forward to drop legislation that re-enacts Title 6 of Ethics in Government Act of 1978, where independent counsel can be appointed to investigate these matters so justice can be served,” Marino said Tuesday.

Marino’s press secretary, Ainsley Holyfield, told AMI Newswire that the congressman plans to introduce the legislation in the current session of Congress.

Under the plan presented by Marino, upon receiving specific charges of misconduct against an executive branch official, the attorney general would be bound to call on a three-judge panel to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate the charges.

The independent prosecutor provision was part of the Ethics in Government Act, but Congress allowed the provision to expire in 1999.

The idea behind a reinstatement of the special prosecutor provision would be to add an air of neutrality and independence to investigations of the executive branch.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the judiciary panel heard from two witnesses, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida).

Chaffetz argued that Koskinen did not comply with a House subpoena and allowed emails written by his predecessor, Lois Lerner, to be destroyed.

Under Lerner’s leadership in 2010, the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking nonprofit status by singling them out for extensive investigations, he said.

“The IRS targeting scandal was un-American,” Chaffetz said, adding that Koskinen was brought in after Lerner’s resignation to address the agency’s problems. “He didn’t fix the problem. He made it worse.”

He said the litany of issues uncovered by congressional investigators – the targeting of Americans, suppression of their First Amendment rights and gross negligence at the top of the IRS – amounted to an impeachable offense.

Democrats on the committee argued that the congressional investigation did not uncover criminal behavior or anything that would rise to a level meriting impeachment.

“When a vote such as this is divided along party lines … we undermine our credibility and make it all but impossible to secure a conviction in the Senate,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

Conyers said the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration investigated the agency and found no evidence that any IRS employee was told to destroy or hide information.

Koskinen himself was invited to testify at the hearing but declined, saying he lacked time to prepare after recently returning home from a trip to China. He did submit a letter to the committee that challenged all the allegations against him.

Koskinen said in the letter that he had responded to all congressional document requests and that the Treasury Department and Justice Department investigations of the agency concluded that the erasing of backup tapes containing the Lerner emails was an accident.

Moreover, the IRS chief said his agency accepted and implemented recommendations made by the Senate Finance Committee and Treasury Department inspector general after their extensive investigations of IRS management failures in recent years.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, however, vowed to press on with a second hearing next month so that they could hear from outside experts on whether the findings presented at Tuesday’s hearing merited further congressional action, such as impeachment. 
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DeSantis, the Florida representative, told committee members that the IRS chief’s actions amounted to an “affront to the authority of this house.”

“As of today, not a single individual has been held accountable in any real way for what happened with the IRS,” he said. “If Commissioner Koskinen can get away with his conduct, then other executive branch agencies will have a blueprint for how to stymie the Congress when it conducts legitimate oversight.”