If the House Republicans’ Benghazi investigation craters after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony this week, the chamber’s right-wing caucus has a sequel in mind: attempting the second impeachment of an executive branch appointee in 226 years.
The target is Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. Koskinen, 76, is a respected, successful business and government executive who, at the behest of the White House, took on the job of cleaning up the beleaguered tax agency in December 2013, after offenses had been committed.
The accusations stem from 2013, when the IRS’s tax-exempt division was found to have disproportionately targeted conservative groups for scrutiny. Although Koskinen was brought in after the damage had been done, Freedom Caucus members say he tried to cover up wrongdoing. Democrats say the allegations are unfounded.
The case has problems. There may have been miscommunication, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Koskinen.
Former Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 2011 until this year, said that while, to him, Koskinen “has been a disappointment” in terms of reforming the troubled agency, “impeaching the IRS commissioner is not a tactic that will be successful.”
The pre-Koskinen abuses by the IRS’s tax-exempt division have been the subject of three inquiries. All were critical of IRS mismanagement, but none found any evidence of illegal activities or political direction from on high.
A New York Times investigation of the IRS’s Cincinnati tax-exempt operations described an understaffed, poorly led office, not one motivated by politics. Moreover, although the IRS was wrong to focus on conservative groups, the skepticism about some applications for tax-exempt status was justified.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed special interest money into campaigns, also encouraged groups to declare themselves principally social welfare organizations that dabble in politics. That designation made them eligible for favorable tax treatment with minimal disclosure requirements. Under pressure from Republicans, the IRS is pulling back from a push for stricter regulation of these groups.
A partisan impeachment could backfire in the same way as the impeachment of President Bill Clinton 17 years ago, the politically motivated government shutdowns and the fizzling Benghazi inquest is likely to.
The fight within the House Republican caucus reflects the manifestation of an apocalyptic view from the right-wing minority that the political system has to be destroyed before it can be reformed. That justifies actions such as impeachment.
More than a few Republicans fear their colleagues would be making a huge mistake.