Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1183

IRS Logo 2Forbes:  Heading The IRS Shouldn't Be Mission Impossible: GOP Call To Impeach Koskinen Is Tragic Political Theater, by Len Burman:

The 2016 Republican Party platform demands that Congress impeach and convict Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. His “high crimes and misdemeanors” primarily consist of annoying congressional leaders and heading an agency charged with interpreting and enforcing the incoherent tax laws that Congress has inflicted on the American public—the definition of a thankless job. Impeaching the commissioner may be good political theater, but it’s bad for the country.

Over the years, the IRS has been led by a long list of admirable public servants of both parties. One, Mort Caplin, just celebrated his 100th birthday. Mort, a war hero decorated for valor at Normandy, probably saw serving as JFK’s Commissioner as a comparatively safe job.

Current Commissioner John Koskinen is only dodging metaphorical bullets, but the hail of fire is unrelenting. ...

He probably didn’t anticipate that his hard work would result in some House leaders and the official GOP platform calling for his impeachment. The charges: some emails lost by IRS staff and making a House committee wait a few weeks before responding to a subpoena. The same Treasury inspector general who flagged the targeting of conservative groups called Koskinen “exceptionally cooperative.” (AEI’s Norm Ornstein published an excellent dissection  of what he calls the House “show trial” in The Atlantic.) ...

Koskinen, who is tough as nails, will be okay, but the damage to our fiscal system could be longer lasting. If the goal is to improve the IRS—as it should be—the agency needs more people like Koskinen, Caplin, and the admirable souls who served between them (many of whom have rallied to Koskinen’s defense). Public servants willing to take on the enormous challenges facing the IRS shouldn’t have to face a hail of metaphorical bullets for trying to do their job.

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Len is my tax hero, and I trust his evaluation of Koskinen's toughness and skill.

I just re-read Section II of this statement
which summarizes the complaints against Commissioner Koskinen. His tenure post-dates the IRS's practice of blockading Tea Party applications for exempt status. All the complaints relate to his handling of Congress' requests for information and especially how the results differed from his assurances to Congress.

I'm an outsider, but it looks to me as if Koskinen's toughness worked against him here. He transparently resents Congressional intrusion into his work, and I believe that he treated Congressional requests for information with much less seriousness than he should have. It's apparent that he did not order his people to search for backups or any alternate systems containing Lerner's lost (or destroyed) emails: TIGTA had no trouble discovering that backups existed, but that they had been routinely erased a month after the subpoena. Quoting from the pdf I linked: "The IRS didn’t even bother to look for the Lois Lerner emails in some very obvious places."

To be clear, I don't believe that Koskinen intended to participate in a cover-up. I believe that he regarded the subpoena as essentially illegitimate and unworthy of his attention. In other words, it was nothing but a waste of his time. This is consistent with toughness becoming stubbornness: a flaw rather than an asset. Another management hazard is loyalty to one's people, some of whom may be bad actors.

When several of Koskinen's assurances to Congress proved to be untrue, it was time for him to resign and clear the way for someone who could build more credibility with Congress. Starting from zero would be better than starting from a position of negative credibility. Again, toughness became stubbornness, with the desire to beat those nasty House committee members overriding the national interest in having an IRS Commissioner who has the trust of all of Congress.

As to impeachment, I agree that it's a circus, driven mostly by frustration with a near-blackout of this story by the media. Impeachment would force some media coverage of what happened, but in addition to being unfair to Koskinen it would never succeed.

Again, I'm an outsider, so some of the above is conjectural and some of it is probably wrong. But that's how it looks to me.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Aug 4, 2016 10:23:41 PM

His “high crimes and misdemeanors” primarily consist of annoying congressional leaders

Uh, not really. That Democrats fail to understand the seriousness of what happened at the IRS before and after Koskinen took over just goes to show how little they care about the things they badger others about.

Party wide corruption from coast to coast.

Posted by: wodun | Aug 4, 2016 3:57:33 PM

There are plenty of people who would accept the job of Commissioner who would not lie to Congress, obstruct investigations, and fail to clean house. It makes a lot more sense to impeach the Commissioner than to cut the IRS budget, Congress's other tool for misbehaving executive branch officials.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Aug 4, 2016 1:04:35 PM

Was that piece written by Ben Rhodes?

Posted by: bflat879 | Aug 4, 2016 9:33:54 AM