- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The House Freedom Caucus will attempt to force a vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen Tuesday on the House floor.

Good. The man needs to go. Or at least be held accountable.

Establishment Republicans are worried, though. They’re concerned the House Freedom Caucus has pushed the House too far rightward since its founding in 2015. The group helped drive the ouster of then House Speaker John Boehner, and is viewed by The New York Times as “ultraconservative Republicans” attempting “partisan mischief.”

Although Mr. Koskinen has committed numerous misdeeds, the public simply doesn’t care about him and Democrats will never cooperate to get two-thirds of the Senate to convict, the establishment thinks. It’s a political loser.

Indeed, The New York Times editorial board has already said so.

“The leadership of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, is about to be challenged by the latest partisan mischief from ultraconservative Republicans — a meritless and unprecedented attempt to impeach the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen,” The Times wrote on Tuesday. “Members of the House’s Freedom Caucus, still angry over an I.R.S. investigation of possible political activity by conservative nonprofit groups in 2013, are demanding that the House impeach Mr. Koskinen even though he was not in charge of the agency when the nonprofits were investigated …

“No executive official below president has been impeached since the secretary of war in 1876. Constitutional scholars have told Congress there is no basis here for impeachment … But there is already speculation that Mr. Ryan, fearing the Freedom Caucus, might try to appease it with a measure of censure for the same baseless charges. This would be no less damaging to Mr. Koskinen’s reputation — or to the speaker’s. It would be another signal that Mr. Ryan remains hostage to his ultraright members,” the Times concluded.

They are wrong. If Congress wants to remain relevant, they must act to impeach the man. Yes, impeachment hearings are rare, but Mr. Koskinen’s charges are anything but “baseless.”

He became commissioner of the IRS after Lois Lerner, the Exempt Organizations Director, retired after refusing to testify before Congress on why she delayed the approval process of conservative nonprofits for as long as five years, effectively putting those groups out of operation. Her actions resulted in just one conservative nonprofit being granted tax-exempt status over a three year period between 2009 and 2012.

Mr. Koskinen started his term promising transparency and cooperation with Congress. However, the IRS under his watch has only become more politically polarized, showing obstruction and contempt for the Congressional branch of government, like never seen before.

What are Mr. Koskinen’s crimes?

He’s actively tried to stonewall congressional investigation into the tea-party scandal. He’s failed to comply to several congressional subpoenas. In 2014, he was asked to supply all of Ms. Lerner’s emails, but he did nothing to track or preserve such documentation. Weeks after the subpoena, IRS employees in West Virginia erased 422 backup tapes, destroying as many as 24,000 of Ms. Lerner’s emails (obstruction of justice, anyone?), despite an agency preservation order.

In congressional hearings, Mr. Koskinen withheld from Congress both the preservation order and the destruction of tapes and also failed to disclose details regarding Ms. Lerner’s destroyed hard drive.

Mr. Koskinen also assured Congress that his agency has gone to “great lengths” to retrieve Ms. Lerner’s lost emails, however, when the Treasury Department inspector general did its own search, it found 1,000 new emails in 14 days. It appeared the IRS never searched disaster backup tapes, Ms. Lerner’s BlackBerry and laptop, the email server and its backup tapes.

Then, to put salt in the wounds, Mr. Koskinen then declined to show up to his own impeachment hearing.

It’s Congresses job to be a check on the executive branch’s power, and Mr. Koskinen has repeatedly shown his disrespect for legislative branch.

Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, said in June testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that the Koskinen controversy “falls at the very crossroads of expanding executive power, diminishing congressional authority, and the rise of the Fourth Branch,” which consists of “federal agencies that exercise increasingly unilateral and independent powers.”

Independent groups like Judicial Watch are more successful in getting information from the executive branch through lawsuits than Congress is nowadays, he noted.

As a matter of principle, House Republicans should act on impeachment hearings. The IRS shouldn’t be run as its own little fiefdom, unaccountable to Congress — to anyone really. Although the Department of Justice has closed its investigation into tea-party targeting, the U.S. Attorney has declined to pick up Congress’s contempt charge after Ms. Lerner refused to testify, and the press corps yawns over the issue. It’s an important one to pursue.

For Congress’s job to hold the executive branch accountable, to serve as a check on its power, it must act if it doesn’t want to become irrelevant.

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