The IRS: Still Weaponized Against Conservatives
And Congress isn't doing enough to rein in a rogue agency.
While Americans remained distracted by the presidential election, the rioting in Charlotte and the terror attacks in New York and New Jersey, some equally important news remained below the radar: IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Important because while elections, riots and terror are transient events, IRS power — and the agency’s apparent willingness to abuse it — remains a constant threat to the republic.
During his testimony last Wednesday, Koskinen’s demeanor was in sharp contrast to the arrogance he demonstrated when he appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2014. Perhaps that’s because he was forced to admit he made false statements two years ago. “Some of my testimony later proved mistaken,” he stated.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) wasn’t buying it and questioned the Commissioner’s earlier assertion that “every email” of former Exempt Organizations Division director Lois Lerner had been preserved.
“What did you mean by every email?” Gowdy asked.
“I meant that every email that the IRS had that I knew of had been preserved,” Koskinen stated. “That was my honest belief.”
“Well why didn’t you say that?” Gowdy asked.
“Well, if I knew then what I know now, I would have testified differently,” Koskinen answered. “But at the time, I testified honestly about what I knew and what I’d been told. Nobody regrets more than I do that in some ways this case has been the case that keeps on giving with more information coming out. I wish that all the information had been put out to begin with.”
Such a statement strains credulity. In June 2014, Koskinen asserted that no emails had been destroyed since congressional investigations began. Yet IRS workers erased backup tapes containing many of Lerner’s emails in March 2014. Moreover, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) explained that a top senior management official at the agency had learned about missing emails in early 2014, before the backup tapes were destroyed. “We’re supposed to believe that’s just a coincidence?” Jordan asked.
Among a rather amazing number of coincidences, apparently. First Americans were told Lerner’s records were “accidentally” lost when her desktop computer crashed, as if that were the only device that contained them, despite networked and cloud computing, and redundant email backup systems required by government. Then we learned Lerner’s hard drive crashed during a time frame critical to the investigation, and that six additional IRS employees could not produce investigation-related records, with one also citing computer failure as the reason. After that, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane, in charge of producing documents for congressional investigators, revealed even more IRS officials “have had computer problems over the course of the period covered by the investigations and the chairman’s subpoena.”
This coincidental destruction of evidence was so thorough, the House Armed Services Committee asked the NSA and the Defense Department to see if they could find anything. Then it became a question of accessing a secretive government database established for continuity of operations in case of national disaster. At that point the DOJ told Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton it would be “too hard” to retrieve Lerner’s emails from that system.
All of these “coincidences” occurred even as Koskinen told Congress he had “moved heaven and earth” trying to find them — yet that somehow precluded him from notifying Congress immediately after he discovered what had occurred. His excuse? He wanted to produce as many emails as he could before revealing some of them had been destroyed.
That assertion infuriated Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). “You circled the wagons, you clammed up, you took the Fifth [Amendment], you destroyed evidence and you betrayed the country,” he said, blasting Koskinen. “And most sadly, you got away with it.”
With plenty of help from an equally corrupt DOJ. Despite its own involvement in the scandal, revealed in a series of documents released by Judicial Watch in July 2015, DOJ closed its investigation of IRS corruption in October of that year, with Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik stating in a letter to Congress that the DOJ found “substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints. But poor management is not a crime.”
That “poor management” continues to this day. Despite Koskinen’s insistence the IRS is “absolutely not” still targeting Tea Party and other non-profit conservative groups, Jordan revealed otherwise. “You can’t sit there and say you’re not still targeting,” he stated. “These organizations still don’t have their tax-exempt status.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agrees. Last month it unanimously confirmed that odious reality with Judge David B. Sentelle asserting it is apparent to the “Inspector General, the District Court, and this court that the IRS cannot defend its discriminatory conduct on the merits.” Sentelle further revealed the IRS’s “Catch 22” way of avoiding the processing of conservative tax exemption applications, explaining that the agency is “telling the applicants in these cases that ‘we have been violating your rights and not properly processing your applications. You are entitled to have your applications processed. But if you ask for that processing by way of a lawsuit, then you can’t have it.’”
As a result of this decision, the IRS will have to prove it has stopped targeting conservatives and will not do so again in the future.
That proof will doubtlessly be forthcoming — after the 2016 election.
“We would do well to remember just how outrageous the IRS’s actions in this matter were,” states National Review’s editorial board. “Conservative organizations, particularly those with tea-party leanings, were singled out by the IRS and subjected to an extraordinary degree of scrutiny on everything from the political ambitions of their donors (and their donors’ family members) to — hard as it is to believe — the contents of their prayers. IRS officials misled and stonewalled Congress and federal investigators. This harassment happened after Democratic grandees including Chuck Schumer and Max Baucus demanded that the IRS investigate tea-party organizations and other entities on the Democrats’ enemies list. It was a pure political witch hunt and a gross, criminal misuse of one of the federal government’s most fearsome agencies.”
More important, it may have tipped the scales in the 2012 presidential election.
Nonetheless, Republicans seem determined to maintain their spinelessness in the face of overt corruption. Before last week’s hearing, House Republicans agreed to avoid a floor vote on Koskinen’s impeachment. Why? GOP leaders surmised the effort could “irritate” voters.
In other words, GOP leaders would have one believe that so many Americans stand behind the most powerful and misery-inducing agency in the nation that pursuing justice could hurt their election prospects.
“We will not survive as a free society operating under something roughly resembling the rule of law if federal law-enforcement agencies — which is what the IRS really is — are permitted to run amok,” writes columnist Kevin Williams.
But they are running amok. And Hillary Clinton, who promised to “build on the successes” of the Obama administration, will ensure it continues.