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The IRS Commissioner Merits Impeachment

September 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Republican congressional leaders ardently want conservative members of the House to not force a vote on impeaching the IRS commissioner.

The public does not care about John Koskinen's many misdeeds. And impeachment will distract attention from issues that interest the public. And because Democrats are not ingrates, the required two-thirds of the Senate will never vote to convict Koskinen, whose behavior continues the pattern of doing what Democrats desire with the most intrusive and potentially punitive government agency.

These Republican leaders' reasons are cumulatively unpersuasive. Resuscitating the impeachment power would contribute to revitalizing Congress' Article I powers. Impeachments are rare -- no appointed official of the executive branch has been impeached in 140 years. But what James Madison called the "indispensable" power to impeach should not be allowed to atrophy, as has Congress' power to declare war.

Here are a few pertinent facts. At the IRS, Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner participated in delaying for up to five years -- effectively denying -- tax-exempt status for, and hence suppressing political advocacy by, conservative groups. She retired after refusing to testify to congressional committees, invoking the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.

Koskinen, who became commissioner after Lerner left, failed to disclose the disappearance of emails germane to a congressional investigation of IRS misbehavior. Under his leadership, the IRS failed to comply with a preservation order pertaining to an investigation. He did not testify accurately or keep promises made to Congress. Subpoenaed documents, including 422 tapes potentially containing 24,000 Lerner emails, were destroyed. He falsely testified that the Government Accountability Office's report on IRS practices found "no examples of anyone who was improperly selected for an audit."

In June testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School noted that the Obama administration stands accused of "effectively weaponizing the IRS." And the Koskinen controversy comes as Congress "is facing an unprecedented erosion of its authority vis-a-vis the executive branch." The "increasing obstruction and contempt displayed by federal agencies in congressional investigations reflects the loss of any credible threat of congressional action. Congress has become a paper tiger within our tripartite system -- a branch that often expresses outrage, yet fails to enforce its constitutional authority."     

The Koskinen controversy, Turley said, "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." As Turley noted (and as Hillary Clinton can ruefully attest), "private litigants like Judicial Watch" are nowadays more successful than Congress in prying information from the executive branch. And (as the Lerner case illustrates) "the administration has effectively foreclosed avenues like the referral of criminal contempt and other sanctions that should be imposed for providing misleading statements to Congress." 

As a means of controlling the executive, the power of the purse "has become something of a constitutional myth." This is particularly true now that Congress, inept at producing 12 appropriations bills, forfeits its leverage by funding the government indiscriminately with omnibus bills and continuing resolutions. So, Congress is left with impeachment as the only "functional deterrence for executive overreach."

The Constitution authorizes impeachment for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Madison favored this language and interpreted it to include "maladministration," which surely encompasses perjury and obstruction of Congress. The idea that an IRS commissioner is not a high enough official for impeachment ignores, Turley says, "the realities of the modern regulatory state." Commissioners have authority over 90,000 employees collecting $2.5 trillion in revenues annually.

Andrew C. McCarthy, former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official, reminded the Judiciary Committee that "the point of the Constitution's vesting of all executive power in a single official, the president, is precisely to make the president accountable for all executive branch conduct." And impeachment of a subordinate official, far from being a radical remedy, is much less drastic than impeaching the president or defunding the official's agency.

One of the articles of impeachment filed by the House against Richard Nixon was that he, "acting personally and through his subordinates " (emphasis added), had "endeavored" to use the IRS to violate Americans' rights, causing IRS actions "to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner." If presidents are, as McCarthy says, "derivatively responsible" for misconduct by executive branch subordinates, surely those officials are responsible for their own misconduct and that of underlings. Refusing to impeach Koskinen would continue the passivity by which members of Congress have become, in Turley's words, "agents of their own obsolescence."

    

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

    

Comments

Now, I cannot believe I'm saying this but, the IRS Commissioner needs to be held accountable, just as everyone else is supposed to be. OOOPs, well, set that aside for Hillary, who has broken so many rules but is still allowed to slither along in her campaign. Her alleged pneumonia may set her aside for a good, long, time, leaving us to having Mr. Trump as President! GO TRUMP!!

whoa, the rhetoric is heating up again...classic.

John Koskinen as with Lois Lerner should be tried and jailed. Both are rotten SOB's that have used the IRS department politically. It doesn't matter which party would have committed such a crime the penalty should be the same! Instead Lerner wasn't t prosecuted, and that jerk Koskinen was defiant to the board of inquiry. Not to mention Loretta Lynch. Really???? And as for Robert Warner who's comment is about is about as intelligent as a toilet seat, this isn't about paying taxes this is about overstepping your authority using a department of the US government for politically gain. What idiots some people are on this site. While I realize their politically slant, their comments are so moronic tantamount to the candidate they support making the comment that ISIS is hoping Donald Trump will become POTUS. Fact check: Trump wants to annihilate ISIS, Clinton wants to let a majority of Muslims "really" unvetted into our country. Trump wants all illegals that are undesirables deported Clinton wants everyone to stay. The military does not want Clinto as POTUS. Donald will beef up the military and wipe ISIS off the map. So who's praying to Allah????? CLinton.........

The IRS Commissioner is doing his job. - and apparently quite well, given the screams of those who don't/won't pay their taxes.

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Will...Congress shouldn't let the IRS Commissioner's actions aagainst the truth stay untouched...he needs to be impeached if only to forestall other appointed officials from doing the same thing!

Barney, you are so full of crap your eyes are now brown! Further, it's lame people like yourself and Georgie Will who write the crap SSN loves, as long as it meets their own guidelines! Time and again, you and Georgie's rhetoric builds up to near a explosion of nothing more than bs!

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