On November 9, 2017, well into the Clinton or Trump Administration, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s term will expire. Koskinen, like FBI Director James Comey, is a Senate-confirmed executive who has a term of office making him independent of the president’s term. Koskinen will be lauded at that time as a man of integrity who not only kept the IRS on life support while under constant attack but who provided the necessary leadership and integrity to drive the agency forward to better serve taxpayers.
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Impeachment of federal office holders is reserved for those who commit high crimes or misdemeanors. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives seems determined to have a go at Koskinen for reasons that are political and unworthy of impeachment. Chairman Jason Chaffetz of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform introduced an impeachment resolution against Koskinen. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings. This is an uncharacteristic misstep by the Paul Ryan House of Representatives.
Koskinen is an exemplary public official. He should be getting an award for his service, not this type of attention. He has not done anything wrong personally. Impeachment in the absence of crimes or unethical behavior, none of which has occurred here, is a dangerous precedent that has not been part of the U.S. experience and could dissuade experienced, competent executives like Koskinen from accepting appointment to senior management positions within government. I recently defended a case in Austin, Texas, where a similar mean-spirited legislative impeachment proceeding rightly failed.
Why is Koskinen singled out for this ‘honor?’ In essence, the claim is he failed to respond to lawfully issued congressional subpoenas and engaged in “a pattern of deception” in statements pertaining to the IRS production of emails, and failed to act with competence in overseeing the investigation into IRS’s treatment of conservative groups. The proponents’ case that Koskinen committed high crimes and misdemeanors depends upon issues he did not control.
But Koskinen wasn’t even at the IRS when the scandal occurred, and he certainly was not leading the search for documents to respond to congressional requests. Republican members of Congress are rightfully upset that IRS employees in West Virginia magnetically erased hundreds of backup tapes in March 2014, destroying some of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails. While IRS recycling the backup tapes was dumb as a bag of hammers, Koskinen did not engage in that activity.