Embattled IRS Commissioner John Koskinen weathered another round of heated questioning at a Monday night hearing where lawmakers challenged his credibility over the discovery that years’ worth of emails from ex-IRS official Lois Lerner have gone missing.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has subpoenaed a former IRS lawyer to testify at another hearing on the emails Tuesday morning, publicly tangled with Koskinen on Monday night. In one fiery exchange, Issa told him: “We have a problem with you and you have a problem with credibility.”
Two years after activists for same-sex marriage obtained the confidential tax return and donor list of a national group opposed to redefining marriage, the Internal Revenue Service has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to settle the resulting lawsuit.
The Daily Signal has learned that, under a consent judgment today, the IRS agreed to pay $50,000 in damages to the National Organization for Marriage as a result of the unlawful release of the confidential information to a gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, that is NOM’s chief political rival…
Unauthorized disclosure of confidential tax information is a felony offense that can result in five years in prison, but the Department of Justice did not bring criminal charges.
The thing about dogs eating homework is, it could actually happen. This can’t.
This is “The dog ate my hard drive, broke into another building, ate the backup of the hard drive, then broke into six other top officials’ offices and ate their hard drives also.”…
And here we come to a third major difference between the IRS’ apparent gross abuse of power and criminal coverup and Watergate: Watergate was a much bigger deal simply because the press was relentless about following up on every detail.
Today the media’s reasoning is roughly as follows: The IRS went after some conservative groups and is engaged in an illegal coverup. We also don’t like these groups, also believe they deserve special scrutiny, and also think there’s something inherently shady about conservatives (but not liberals) who try to buy political influence. If White House staff says they weren’t involved, we’ll take their word for it. Pardon us if we’d rather cover something more relevant to American lives today. Like the 82-year-old name of the football team that plays in DC.
It’s not Commissioner Koskinen who lost the emails, he’s just on the wrong side of a bad policy that doesn’t require the IRS to be as records-conscious as the citizens it polices. But in the traditional IRS power relationship, it’s usually the subjects of its audits who feel the unfocused and overly harsh attention of a system that assumes they are guilty.
One of the big complaints I hear from voters, particularly conservative voters, is that the government exempts itself from the burdens it puts on everyday people. So members of Congress are treated differently under the Affordable Care Act than regular citizens, President Obama can decide which laws he wants to follow and which ones he doesn’t, and the IRS doesn’t have to be as circumspect as the rest of us. Sometimes there are good explanations, like the congressional “exemption” from the ACA, but since the IRS is stingy with its benefit-of-the-doubt powers, it has a high bar with the public.
Democrats mocked the elaborate displays of outrage at the hearing—always a safe thing to do—but you don’t have to share Ryan’s view that the IRS is engaged in a cover-up of a scheme to target conservatives to recognize a more universal element to Ryan’s anger. The IRS expects all of us to maintain rigid compliance, spelunk-on-demand for every receipt, and is highly skeptical of what might be garden-variety mistakes until we prove otherwise. So if the congressional system of inquiry feels a little itchy, tight, and irrational, perhaps this will be a learning opportunity or a good topic for the next pricey conference.
Why does this matter deserve heightened scrutiny from the rest of us? Because crimes against democracy are particularly insidious. Representative government involves a type of trade. As citizens, we cede power to public officials for important purposes that require centralized power: defending the country, imposing order, collecting taxes to promote the common good. In exchange, we expect public institutions to be evenhanded and disinterested. When the stewards of power — biased judges or corrupt policemen or politically motivated IRS officials — act unfairly, it undermines trust in the whole system.
Trust in the federal government has declined dramatically since the 1960s. Some Americans now are predisposed to believe that their government — the product of their own choices, channeled by durable, admirable institutions — can’t be trusted with the collection of metadata or with the use of drones (which might be employed by the president, according to Sen. Rand Paul, to kill citizens at cafes).
I’ve often criticized such attitudes as conspiratorial and destructive. A democracy needs respected, capable public institutions. No traditional conservative, in this sense, can be anti-government. We need government to do its job, to play its role and to justify the power and resources we properly cede to it. “Respect for its authority,” said George Washington, “compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty.”
But the IRS has managed to feed anti-government sentiments by inhabiting anti-government stereotypes. It has undermined respect for authority. And it doesn’t seem even to understand the damage it has done.