- - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The impeachment of a government official is serious and solemn business, not to be undertaken lightly. The Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen, who obstructed the congressional committee investigating how the IRS targeted conservative political organizations, deserves it. Turning the power of the state against the innocent is dreadfully serious business indeed, and must be seriously brought to account.

The crime, as it so often is in Washington, is slightly less serious than the cover-up. But this time the crime and the cover-up are equally bad. Mr. Koskinen was not, in fact, in charge of the tax agency when Lois Lerner orchestrated the persecution of Tea Party groups from 2010 to 2012, but when he took over in 2013 he made sure that she got away with it. Perhaps his doing so was a condition of his getting the job. Once the Justice Department, to its lasting shame, said it would not press the case against Ms. Lerner, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, did what duty demanded. He filed a resolution of impeachment against the commissioner, backed by 18 Republicans on the committee.

Mr. Koskinen is charged with “high crimes and misdemeanors” for falsely testifying that the IRS had turned over to congressional investigators all of Ms. Lerner’s email records. He presided over the destruction of the magnetic back-up tapes after they had been subpoenaed by the committee. The erasure of the tapes was particularly egregious. “This action impeded congressional investigations into the Internal Revenue Service targeting of Americans based on their political affiliation,” so says House Resolution 494. “The American people may never know the true culpability or extent of the Internal Revenue Service targeting because of the destruction of evidence that took place.”

Stepping into the middle of trouble, as Mr. Koskinen did when he took over the out-of-control tax agency, is no one’s definition of a good time, but the committee gave him the courtesy of ample time to gather relevant records. The commissioner repaid their forbearance with treachery. He used the opportunity to sweep away traces of an orchestrated scheme to slow-walk applications from conservative groups for tax-exempt status. All was done to clear obstacles in the path of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

The House Judiciary Committee can now move the proceedings along or let the matter die. If he moves the proceedings along, Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, would put the resolution to the House floor for a full vote. Pushing it through the chamber would satisfy justice, but Democrats no doubt would call it a betrayal of Mr. Ryan’s pledge in his inaugural speech to “turn the page” on the past. Passage would send the resolution to the Senate, where the two-thirds necessary for conviction would be a high bar to clear with only 54 Republicans currently seated.

“Truth will out,” the bard of Avon wrote. In times like these, however, the high and mighty ask with flippant scorn, “what difference, at this point, does it make?” Fewer than 1 in 4 Americans tell pollsters they trust their government. Changing an indictment like that should be the goal of every member of Congress, Democrat, Republican or independent. The idea of using the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon to deprive an American of his money and his freedom was once abhorrent to everyone. A commissioner who presides over such chicanery and abuse deserves impeachment, or something precious in America has died.

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