- - Thursday, May 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Honesty and loyalty are both virtues, but politics can put them at odds. The Internal Revenue Service commissioner has sacrificed honesty for loyalty, and congressional Republicans say he lied to hide the facts behind the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, all to help Democrats re-elect President Obama in 2012.

The House Judiciary Committee is trying to conclude the case against IRS chief John Koskinen, seven months after Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, filed a resolution seeking his impeachment. “Koskinen provided misleading testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “These are very serious allegations of misconduct.”

Mr. Koskinen declined an invitation to appear to testify in his own behalf.

Getting to the bottom of political machinations can be as puzzling as finding where a circle begins. It was not Mr. Koskinen who set the events in motion, but Lois Lerner, the director of determining who gets an exemption and who doesn’t. Between 2010 and 2012, Ms. Lerner oversaw an aggressive effort to investigate whether scores of organizations with conservative-sounding titles were eligible for IRS tax-exempt status. Many of these organizations were subjected to extraordinary scrutiny, and were denied approval, effectively sidelining them during the presidential campaign season.

Ms. Lerner told a House committee she had done nothing wrong, pleaded the Fifth Amendment and soon retired with a generous pension. Her colleagues at the Justice Department said they “found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.” Mr. Koskinen, who has been in charge of the IRS since 2013, was directed to hand over Ms. Lerner’s email archives to investigators, and he subsequently supervised the destruction of 24,000 of them, thwarting attempts to trace the emails to their source. A computer crash erased the messages, he said. (Maybe the dog ate some of them.) Investigators say his search was not a diligent one. That violated a subpoena and led to sanction by the House.

Impeachment is difficult, and removal from office is rare. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, and acquitted. Kenneth Starr, who led the Clinton impeachment investigation, now applauds Mr. Clinton for his “redemptive” philanthropic work since then. Though harshly accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Richard Nixon was never impeached. He resigned to avoid it. The last Cabinet member, like Mr. Koskinen, was Augustus Hill Garland, Grover Cleveland’s attorney general in 1886, for failing to turn over documents about the firing of a federal prosecutor.

Whether House Republicans succeed in holding Mr. Koskinen accountable for a cover-up in the Tea Party targeting scandal depends on whether Democrats, masters of spreading doubt, can do it one more time. No one thinks the IRS collects the nation’s taxes with clean hands, but proving Mr. Koskinen guilty will require Republican determination to get the job done.

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