Tax Day is one of the most dreaded days on the calendar for American taxpayers. As Americans are forced to spend hours upon hours deciphering the tax code, and then hand over large portions of their hard-earned income, the day serves as an annual reminder both of how bloated the federal government is, and how unwieldy the tax code is.
For conservatives, though, Tax Day is a much more insidious reminder. It is also an annual reminder of how obtrusive - and yes, abusive - the IRS has become. For years, the out-of-control and unaccountable agency engaged in a systematic targeting of tea party and other conservative individuals and organizations - largely without consequence. Nearly four years after the targeting came to light, Lois Lerner - the senior IRS official who did more than anyone else to orchestrate the targeting - has evaded any type of punishment for her wrongdoing, and John Koskinen, the agency’s commissioner, is still in his post, despite having obstructed multiple congressional investigations.
The IRS scandal is actually two distinct scandals, and it is important to evaluate each one separately. The first scandal was the years-long targeting of conservatives based solely on their political leanings. Lois Lerner was one of the chief implementers in this Phase One scandal, and she personally made decisions that clamped down on the tea party movement, denied conservatives the ability to exercise free speech and political organization, and created an environment of fear and uncertainty among private American citizens.
The second scandal, which began back in May of 2013 when the first scandal became public knowledge and - incredibly! - continues to this day, has been the IRS’s massive cover-up of the first scandal. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is largely to blame for the IRS’s wrongdoing in this iteration of the scandal; Koskinen has been at the helm of the organization as it has engaged in repeated instances of lying to congressional investigators, destroying and hiding critically important evidence, and, in general, making a mockery of our nation’s criminal investigation methods.
The casualty of the first scandal was free speech; of the second scandal, the rule of law. The IRS, through its brazen misconduct, ran roughshod over these two cherished pillars of freedom in our country. And, to this day, the IRS and its senior officials, have gotten away with it.
Is it any wonder that Americans have lost faith in the system and believe Washington operates under its own special set of rules?
With President Trump’s victory in November, there is renewed hope that these two IRS scandals can finally be thoroughly and fairly investigated and those responsible for perpetuating the scandals will be held accountable.
Leading the way are two Republican congressmen - Kevin Brady, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Peter Roskam, the chairman of that same committee’s tax subcommittee. In a letter, the two congressmen asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give the IRS investigation a “fresh look” to evaluate whether or not Lois Lerner should face criminal charges. In a separate letter to President Trump last week, Brady and Roskam, joined by many of their Republican colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee, asked that President Trump take the much-needed action of firing Commissioner John Koskinen.
Firing Koskinen and properly evaluating whether or not Lerner should be criminally charged are both necessary actions. They are also long overdue.
President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have the opportunity to do the right thing here and to help restore Americans’ confidence in our institutions and in Washington, DC’s ability to abide by the same rules the rest of Americans must follow.
Because of its expansive authority and its access to intensely personal information about every American citizen, the IRS has an obligation to live under the strictest code of conduct. The most feared government entity has been able to get away with thumbing its nose at the law, ridiculing our system of checks and balances, and eroding our individual liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. These actions, commonplace in banana republics, are unseemly in a country that cherishes the rule of law and has been a world leader championing free speech.
While GOP House leaders are asking for a “fresh look” into this investigation, Americans are asking for a fresh start at the IRS with new leadership and full and complete resolution of these scandals. President Trump and Attorney General Sessions could deliver that fresh start at an agency badly in need of discipline and oversight.