TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1224

IRS Logo 2New York Times editorial, Will Speaker Paul Ryan Stand Up to the Freedom Caucus?:

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. ...

To impeach the commissioner, his antagonists aim to bypass the House leadership and bring the measure directly to the floor as a privileged resolution. Such a move threatens to set a dangerous new low in congressional politicking. Should this shabby precedent be established, what sub-cabinet officials and bureaucrats might be singled out next? ...

The speaker could show some leadership by sending any such floor motion to a quick and quiet death in committee. That is exactly what the Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi did in 2008, when Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio brought a privileged resolution to the floor to impeach President George W. Bush.

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.

Los Angeles Times editorial, Don't Impeach the IRS Commissioner:

[T]he bill of particulars that accompanies the resolution proves, at most, that Koskinen wasn’t as attentive to the importance of securing records sought by Congress as he should have been. It’s also clear that he misspoke when he told a congressional committee that ”every email”  associated with Lois Lerner, a former IRS official responsible for tax-exempt groups, had been preserved; in fact, IRS employees in West Virginia had erased as many as 24,000 of her emails. (A Treasury Department inspector general found no evidence that the erasures were a deliberate attempt to destroy evidence.) But inaccurate or incomplete testimony isn’t the same as willfully lying to Congress.     

In short, there is nothing to suggest that Koskinen is guilty of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution cites as grounds for impeachment. And even if the House were to vote to impeach him, there is no chance that the Senate would provide the two-thirds majority necessary for a conviction. 

The GOP’s ire at the apparent targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups is understandable, but that’s not the only thing motivating the Freedom Caucus. Instead, the attempt to impeach Koskinen is a political exercise that can’t be divorced from longstanding efforts by conservatives to demonize and defund the IRS. More directly, it’s tied to Republicans’ apparent determination to stop the IRS from enforcing the law barring political campaigns from masquerading as charities. If the House were to impeach the commissioner — or even censure him — the reputation of that body would suffer and members would be tempted to use the impeachment power to push other pet political causes. The only fair outcome is for the House to refer the resolution to the panel the Freedom Caucus is trying to bypass, the House Judiciary Committee. The resolution is likely to die there, as it should.

Responsible Republicans — including Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — need to support that action and stand against this abuse of the impeachment power.

Washington Times, Impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen:

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. ...

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.” ...

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.

Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Scholars Say Impeaching IRS Commissioner Would Set Dangerous Precedent:

As House Republicans weigh impeachment proceedings against IRS commissioner John Koskinen, a group of constitutional scholars are urging lawmakers to hold back. ...

In a letter last week addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a group of constitutional law professors say impeaching the IRS chief would set a dangerous precedent. ...

A larger group of tax scholars also said they opposed impeachment proceedings in an earlier letter to House leaders.

National Society Of Accountants Send Letter to House Leaders Opposing Koskinen Impeachment:

Leaders of the National Society of Accountants (NSA) have sent a letter to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives opposing any resolution to impeach or censure Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen.

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Comments

The rhetorical question posed by the NYT: "Will Speaker Paul Ryan Stand Up to the Freedom Caucus?" This does not require any discussion or analysis. The unequivocal answer is: No.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Sep 14, 2016 5:43:48 AM

If this goes forward, tolerance of corruption will be portrayed as a virtue by the mediaswine.

Posted by: neelynzus | Sep 14, 2016 9:05:20 AM

Democrats calling for no impeachment might have more credibility if they acknowledged the wrongdoing but since they continue to lie about it and say the victims deserved what happened, they show themselves as part of the corrupt problem.

Posted by: wodun | Sep 14, 2016 1:09:03 PM

Republicans have now gotten some media attention to the IRS misbehavior stories. They would be wise to pocket that minor victory and call a final press conference to explain that this effort was undertaken to inform the public so that it can make up its own mind in November.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Sep 14, 2016 1:23:09 PM

Update: Today Politico is reporting that Speaker Ryan and the “Freedom Caucus” have agreed to postpone the impeachment vote until after the election. Thus, the Republicans will successfully hide their radicalism from the electorate until it can’t immediately hurt them. Once again, Speaker Ryan puts party before country.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Sep 15, 2016 6:28:31 AM

"Speaker Ryan puts party before country."

Checks and balances is a radical thing, huh? Boy, some people really don't like the Constitution, when it's provisions are used to try and punish government malfeasance.

I have absolutely no doubt that Publius' spin would be 180 degrees opposite if the parties in question were reversed.

Posted by: MM | Sep 15, 2016 7:13:56 PM