On October 27, the House of Representatives moved to impeach the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen. It may seem odd that Koskinen is being punished since he wasn’t commissioner when the IRS scandal broke two years ago. But make no mistake, Koskinen is a worthy candidate for impeachment.
To get to the bottom of the scandal—the deliberate slow-walking or outright denial of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups—Congress subpoenaed all the emails of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Unit head, Lois Lerner. Koskinen, who was sworn in as commissioner on December 23, 2013, failed to act on this subpoena, and on March 4, 2014, the agency erased 422 backup tapes, destroying as many as 24,000 of Lerner’s emails, despite a congressional order mandating relevant IRS records be preserved.
Koskinen knowingly sat on the information that the emails had been destroyed for four months. When he finally offered an explanation of what had happened to the emails, it was buried on page seven of the third attachment to a letter sent to the Senate Finance Committee in a Friday news dump. Koskinen testified before Congress that he had personally confirmed that none of the IRS’s other email backup tapes was recoverable.
This was a lie. Employees from the inspector general’s office later drove to the IRS office in West Virginia, where the backup tapes were kept, and asked for whatever was there. They recovered 700 backup tapes, and with them 1,000 new emails from Lois Lerner. Finally, a Government Accountability Office report in July indicated that the agency had introduced no new safeguards to prevent the targeting of “organizations’ religious, educational, political, or other views” despite a clear mandate to do so.
Koskinen is just the most prominent federal employee recently implicated in malfeasance. To recap:
- Lois Lerner had a history of targeting conservatives at the Federal Election Commission before going to the IRS. In emails, she called conservatives “crazies” and “a—holes.” She admitted in a press conference that the targeting of conservative groups that she had engaged in was wrong. Yet just the other day, on October 23, the Justice Department announced it was bringing no charges against her. She received $129,300 in bonuses in the three years leading up to the scandal and retired with a full pension.
- Coincidentally, on October 22, the Justice Department’s inspector general revealed that half the drug enforcement agents investigated for attending parties with prostitutes in Colombia received bonuses either during the investigation into their conduct or later.
- After poor management at the Veterans Administration was implicated in numerous deaths, the New York Times reported in April that “at most three” VA employees lost their jobs. A September inspector general’s report revealed that VA employees were getting around having their bonuses frozen as a result of the scandal by creating new positions at the agency, then volunteering to relocate for these jobs—and collecting exorbitant expenses related to the move. One VA executive relocating to Philadelphia collected $274,019. The inspector general’s report declared this “inappropriate,” but conceded that the payoffs were “generally allowable under Federal and VA policy.”
The federal bureaucracy has always been bad at policing employees, but President Obama bears direct responsibility for the problem getting immeasurably worse. Last year, 47 of the 73 federal inspectors general signed a letter decrying the Obama administration for stonewalling their investigations and in some cases actively intimidating investigators. Recall that Obama actually fired the inspector general at the Corporation for National and Community Service, Gerald Walpin, in 2009 for reporting that Sacramento mayor and Obama pal Kevin Johnson was abusing funds from AmeriCorps. Since then, Johnson’s term as mayor has been marked by a series of scandals that echo Walpin’s charges.