Impeaching the IRS Director
The IRS targeting and muzzling of conservative groups during the 2012 presidential campaign is an outrage for which almost no one has been held accountable. Which brings us to the news that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is introducing articles of impeachment on Tuesday against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Mr. Koskinen was not at the IRS during the targeting, but the former Freddie Mac executive has become the single greatest hurdle to public accountability. He was touted as a reformer in his 2013 confirmation hearings. Instead he has helped the Administration stonewall Congress's investigation. Mr. Chaffetz's four articles of impeachment assert that Mr. Koskinen "engaged in a pattern of conduct that is incompatible with his duties as an Officer of the United States."
The first charge provides the facts of Mr. Koskinen's failure to comply with subpoenas. In February 2014 Congress instructed Mr. Koskinen to supply all emails related to Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS Exempt Organizations division during the targeting. We now know Mr. Koskinen made little or no effort to preserve or track these communications and that, only a few weeks after the subpoena, IRS employees in West Virginia erased 422 backup tapes, destroying up to 24,000 Lerner emails.
The second charge cites "a pattern of deception" and three "materially false" statements Mr. Koskinen has made to Congress, under oath, including his assurances that no Lerner emails had been lost. In fact Mrs. Lerner's hard drive had crashed and employees erased tapes.
A third impeachment charge is that while Mr. Koskinen knew Ms. Lerner's emails were missing as early as February 2014, he did not inform Congress until June 13—and only then by tucking the news into the fifth page of a third enclosure to an unrelated letter to the Senate.
A final charge accuses Mr. Koskinen of incompetence, noting how despite his insistence that his agency had gone to "great lengths" to retrieve lost Lerner emails, the IRS failed to search disaster backup tapes, a Lerner BlackBerry and laptop, the email server and its backup tapes. When the Treasury Inspector General did his own search, he found 1,000 new Lerner emails in 14 days.
The last impeachment of a cabinet officer or agency head was War Secretary William Belknap in 1876. Then again, no Presidency in decades has treated Congress with the disdain that President Obama has. With rare exceptions he has also refused to dismiss officials when they fail at their most basic obligations. If the House votes to impeach Mr. Koskinen, the Senate then would need a two-thirds vote to convict in a trial, which is unlikely.
Yet the exercise will have the salutary effect of reminding executive-branch officials that they are not a government unto themselves. The U.S. Attorney has refused to honor Congress's contempt charge against Ms. Lerner for refusing to testify, the Justice Department has closed its investigations into IRS targeting without prosecutions, and the press corps winks at abuses of power when conservatives are the targets. With an executive who refuses to honor the normal separation of powers, Congress is obliged to use its authority to hold government accountable.
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