After reports revealed that the IRS had been targeting conservative groups with additional scrutiny, conservatives were outraged while even President Obama claimed that the criticism was overblown. Instead of rightly recognizing the egregious conduct of the agency, Obama argued that the “real scandal” was that the IRS was “poorly funded.”
Last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz brought impeachment charges against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. It’s about time. Throughout his tenure as head of the IRS (since being appointed by Obama in 2013), Koskinen has continued to obstruct the congressional investigation into the IRS’s conduct, at times offering blatantly false responses to congressional questions.
“If you responded to an IRS audit the way Koskinen’s IRS has behaved, you’d be looking at huge penalties and maybe prison time,” said the editorial board of the New York Post.
The impeachment articles charge that Koskinen deliberately “engaged in a pattern of deception.” A month after the Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to Koskinen to produce all e-mails sent or received by Lois Lerner, a senior IRS employee who evidently had knowledge of the political targeting, IRS employees erased backup tapes containing up to 24,000 Lerner e-mails.
Lerner, who has since been held in contempt of Congress, admitted in 2013 that employees had inappropriately scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names.
Commissioner Koskinen repeatedly asserted to Congress that the agency had made its best efforts to recover Lerner’s e-mails after her hard drive crashed, but he didn’t tell Congress about the alleged problems that arose in February until four months later.
In congressional hearings, Koskinen repeated his rehearsed answers, claiming that the agency had “gone to great lengths” to retrieve all of Lerner’s e-mails. I remember firsthand the tension in the congressional hearing room where Rep. Paul Ryan (then, just a member of the Ways and Means Committee) took apart Koskinen’s argument. “Nobody believes you,” he said.
The impeachment articles also charge that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found 1,000 Lerner e-mails that the IRS failed to produce, and it only took them 15 days – indicating that the IRS didn’t conduct a thorough review.
“The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration searched a number of available sources, including disaster backup tapes, Lois Lerner’s Blackberry, the email server, backup tapes for the email server, and Lois Lerner’s temporary replacement laptop,” the charges read. “The Internal Revenue Service failed to examine any of those sources in its own investigation.”
The entire fiasco is an example of an administration that continuously treats serious congressional investigations as mere political posturing and feels no qualms about dodging the tough questions and deceiving representatives.
The IRS scandal is a serious occurrence of government corruption, and Koskinen’s misleading conduct and general obstruction are unacceptable. He should be held accountable.