USA TODAY US Edition
Impeachment won’t reform Internal Revenue Service
You have to give the conserva- tive Republican House Freedom Caucus credit for one thing: No matter how bad one of their ideas is, they never quit.
Right now, they’re battling the Obama administration, House Democrats and their own leadership to push a futile and absurd effort to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
You’d think they’d take the hint that they’re on the wrong path, one that could undermine high constitutional impeachment standards. But no. Two caucus members have doubled down. Reps. John Fleming, R-La., and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., introduced a resolution Tuesday to force an impeachment vote on the House floor after an identical resolution languished in the Judiciary Committee for nearly a year. House leaders have until Thursday to act.
While the allegations against Koskinen are serious, wiser Republicans know they are not the stuff of impeachment.
The underlying issue goes back years: The agency’s misuse of its immense powers to target conservative groups occurred before Koskinen was even at the agency.
He was brought in to clean up the mess after revelations in 2013 that the agency’s tax-exempt division had singled out conservative organizations, including Tea Party groups, because of their politi- cal beliefs. The IRS sent the groups burdensome inquiries and delayed their applications for tax exemption, actions that President Obama acknowledged were “intolerable and inexcusable.”
Congress investigated, and high-level officials were forced out. The FBI also investigated but concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing, a finding Republicans have found hard to swallow.
Certainly, the public deserves to know what happened, see the relevant records and be convinced that it won’t happen again. Instead, Koskinen’s “cleanup” has raised more suspicions. It has been marred by disappearing emails and backups. Federal court rulings excoriated the agency for secrecy.
A few months ago, the agency was still stonewalling. In March, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blasted the IRS for resisting “at every turn” a judge’s orders to disclose a list of the groups targeted. And just last month, a federal appeals court in the nation’s capital revived a lawsuit against the IRS by conservative groups that had been targeted. A threejudge panel cited the agency’s own admission that two groups still had not gotten their tax exemption, years after seeking it. The IRS’ excuse? Because the groups had sued the agency.
Republicans have good reason to want the IRS to come clean. But impeachment of a man who wasn’t even there when the scandal occurred? No.
In the nation’s history, impeachment has been used rarely, against two presidents, a secretary of war in 1876 and 15 federal judges. It is not a tool for political payback or campaign fundraising, as Fleming used it in an email for his Louisiana Senate race.
There are plenty of things the IRS needs — money to combat ID fraud, a simpler tax code, and reforms to ensure it will not target groups based on political beliefs. Republicans would do better by prioritizing actual governing over frivolous impeachment votes.