One argument for not impeaching John Koskinen

I can’t say I know John Koskinen well, but I have watched and spoken to him on several occasions stretching back to when he chaired the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion and as deputy director for management at OMB. When I saw him at last year’s Service to America Medals dinner, I asked him what he was thinking when he accepted the IRS Commissioner’s job in the first place.

Now Koskinen is under continuous fire, the...

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I can’t say I know John Koskinen well, but I have watched and spoken to him on several occasions stretching back to when he chaired the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion and as deputy director for management at OMB. When I saw him at last year’s Service to America Medals dinner, I asked him what he was thinking when he accepted the IRS Commissioner’s job in the first place.

Now Koskinen is under continuous fire, the latest being a resolution calling for his impeachment that originates from Republicans in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. They’re upset by the string of revelations surrounding the IRS tax exempt group and the way it delayed applications from conservative organizations, in effect limiting their political activities in the couple of years before the 2012 elections. Plenty of published reports have detailed how the IRS erased tapes, shredded hard drives and mixed up timelines in testifying before Congress.

So is Koskinen a cover-up crook, a bagman for the Obama administration or an honest guy simply trying to clean up a scandal?

I don’t think he’s a crook or a bagman. There’s no evidence of that and he does have a fine record of public service. He was brought in to do a difficult job in what is perhaps a no-win situation. I do think it’s likely he had a helluva time slicing through an entrenched bureaucracy, a few of the members of which had a strong incentive to cover up things and get rid of evidence. And of course, the transgressions in the tax exempt organization occurred before Koskinen became commissioner — the commissioner at the time of the transgressions skedaddled.

Some people with the position and ability to use the IRS’ immense power wrongly proceeded to do so. Where those people thought they derived their authority from, we’ll probably never know. Whether mismanagement or real corruption, such activity projects the image of corruption. That perception, if left unchecked, can ruin a society. Once people believe adjudications, investigations, decisions, prosecutions or regulatory actions are driven politically, the game is up. Where then is the last best hope of earth?

The Justice Department conclusion notwithstanding, this was more than “mismanagement.” Saying so should not and does not denigrate everyone in the IRS. To the contrary, it honors the 99 percent of employees who are honest and want to do right by both law and the taxpayers.

In some ways, the congressional oversight investigation of this affair didn’t help. Democrats were too eager to defend the agency and swallow the administration’s assertion that “not a smidgen” of corruption existed. Republicans were too quick to see it as incontrovertible evidence that the administration doubled down on a Nixon-style dirty trick. Neither could totally refute the other’s position nor totally prove its own.

Everyone connected with this affair mishandled and therefore forfeited an opportunity. Impeaching John Koskinen won’t get it back.

More Commentaries from Tom Temin