The Republican leadership in Congress, such as it is, appears to be more afraid of what the liberal Washington Post editorial and op-ed pages will say about them if they impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen than they are of allowing another of Congress’ constitutional prerogatives — in this case, checks and balances on executive-branch impropriety — to be emasculated.
What possible reason other than fear of being badmouthed by Post editorial writers — and perhaps being disinvited from the Georgetown cocktail-party circuit — can there be for their not pursuing articles of impeachment against Koskinen in connection with the IRS’ targeting for improper scrutiny of conservative groups seeking nonprofit tax-exempt status because of their political beliefs?
Republican congressional leaders, desperate to head off a special motion by the conservative House Freedom Caucus to bring the matter directly to the House floor, struck a deal with the caucus last week to call Koskinen before the Judiciary Committee on Sept. 21.
The impeachment naysayers seem to think that voters aren’t interested in Koskinen’s misdeeds and that impeachment would distract them from issues they’re interested in — as though voters can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. But that may just be a case of what psychologists call “projection” on the part of the House GOP leadership.
Nor is the fact that Senate Democrats will vote reflexively and en bloc against Koskinen’s conviction — thereby making it impossible to reach the two-thirds vote necessary to remove him from office — reason not to proceed with the impeachment process in the House.
Otherwise, the takeaway for this (and any future) rogue administration is that there’s no accountability, no price to be paid, regardless of how egregious the behavior is. The alternative preferred by GOP House leaders, a simple vote to censure Koskinen, would be shrugged off like the proverbial water off a duck’s back.
Make no mistake: The IRS actions that spurred the caucus’s call for impeachment were egregious. Under Lois Lerner, the disgraced former head of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division, the applications for tax-exempt status of scores of conservative-leaning groups were slow-walked with endless paperwork and auditing.
The Laurens County Tea Party group, for example, finally received its 501(c)3 certification from the IRS on Oct. 16, 2014, some four years and three months after applying for it in July 2010.
Testifying at a June 2013 House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Dianne Belson, the South Carolina group’s president, recounted having to answer repeated and extensive IRS questionnaires and called the wait “totally unacceptable.”
As is said of justice, tax-exempt status delayed is tax-exempt status denied.
According to The New York Times, hardly a conservative house organ, from March 2010, “when the agency began singling out conservative groups, to April 2012 … the IRS approved the applications of just four groups with [conservative key words like ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriot’ or ‘9/12’] in their names.”
Meanwhile, counterpart liberal groups were routinely rubber-stamped.
“A search for ‘progress,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘liberal’ and ‘equality’ finds 32 groups [approved],” that same New York Times article reported.
Yet Koskinen insisted that a Government Accountability Office report on IRS practices had found “no examples of anyone who was improperly selected for an audit.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley — again, hardly a conservative — has said that the Obama White House stands accused of “effectively weaponizing the IRS.”
Lerner in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in May 2013 refused to testify, effectively pleading the 5th Amendment while at same contending she hadn’t “done anything wrong.” She subsequently resigned over the scandal.
Koskinen, who took over at the IRS in December 2013, putatively to clean up the mess, faces impeachment charges related to the destruction of 422 backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 emails sent by Lerner and subpoenaed by House investigators.
While not swearing off its call for impeachment, the House Freedom Caucus readily agreed to Wednesday’s hearing, saying it would “give every American the opportunity to hear John Koskinen answer under oath why he misled Congress, allowed evidence pertinent to an investigation to be destroyed, and defied congressional subpoenas and preservation orders.”
Koskinen, who earlier this year declined to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and — not surprisingly — denies any wrongdoing, will testify under oath Sept. 21.
Presuming he continues to insist he did nothing wrong, the House Freedom Caucus must press ahead with H. Res. 828, a resolution impeaching him for high crimes and misdemeanors (which James Madison said included what he called “maladministration”). They should do so not so much for the conservative groups whose applications for tax-exempt status were delayed or denied, but for the sake of the rule of law and for constitutional checks and balances on this egregious executive-branch abuse of power.
It’s not just conservative groups seeking vindication — a majority of Americans believe Koskinen should be held responsible for his actions. An August poll commissioned by FreedomWorks found that 76 percent of respondents agreed that “the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service should be held responsible for the improper targeting of conservative groups and other nonprofit organizations by the [IRS].” That same percentage agreed that the IRS chief “should be held responsible for lying under oath during the House’s investigation” into that improper targeting.
Koskinen has said his impeachment “would set an unfortunate precedent,” but in fact the opposite is true. Failure to impeach would set the unfortunate precedent — namely, that the law can be flouted with impunity, and Congress would be shown to be unwilling or unable to do anything about it.
If not Koskinen, who? If not now, when?
Adam Brandon is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks.