U.S. House Republicans to discuss whether to impeach IRS chief

September 7, 2016 10:55 AM EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will discuss next week whether the nation's top tax collector, John Koskinen, should be impeached over conservative charges he stonewalled a congressional investigation, House leaders said Wednesday.

Democrats decried the move as a politically motivated embarrassment that would in any case be stopped in the Senate. Even some Republicans said they did not think Koskinen's activities justified impeachment from his post as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) commissioner.

Conservative Republicans in the House have said Koskinen failed to comply with a congressional investigation into whether the IRS applied extra scrutiny to applications for tax exempt status by conservative groups between 2010 and 2012.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other leading House Republicans have shown little interest in pursuing impeachment. But Ryan indicated Wednesday that he expected floor action because conservatives had filed a privileged resolution, which can bypass regular procedures and take precedence on the House floor.

"This is something that we're going to have a planning conference on next week," Ryan told a regular press conference. "This is something where Congress is going to work its will."

The Senate's Democratic leader, Harry Reid, called the process a "waste, put that in big capital letters" and said it could be blocked in the Senate by that chamber's Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell.

A spokesman for McConnell declined to say what action McConnell might take if the House does vote for Koskinen's impeachment.

"I know Koskinen very well," another senior Senate Republican, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch told Reuters. "Yeah, he's made mistakes but he hasn't made mistakes that justify an impeachment."

Koskinen became IRS commissioner in December 2013, after the controversy already had exploded over the way the agency had handled the applications for tax exempt status.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, the chamber's most conservative bloc, have said Koskinen should be pushed out because of his role in the aftermath of the scandal. They noted that he was commissioner when backup tapes were destroyed containing emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner, who had headed the IRS' tax-exempt division.

Democrats have noted that the Justice Department brought no criminal charges against Lerner and say the case against Koskinen shows little more than agency mismanagement and misstatements.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)

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