USA TODAY US Edition

Im­peach­ment won’t re­form In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice

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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.

 ?? WIN MCNAMEE, GETTY IMAGES ?? IRS chief John Kosk­i­nen tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill.
WIN MCNAMEE, GETTY IMAGES IRS chief John Kosk­i­nen tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill.

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