House Republicans Seek Impeachment of IRS Commish

Two days ago the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of alleged targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service. DOJ found that Lois Lerner and other top IRS managers were guilty of “mismanagement, poor judgment, and institutional inertia,” but had done nothing criminal. This scandal began in 2013 and has been a hot topic in tax professional circles and among anyone interested in government & politics. Over the course of these past two and a half years, the IRS has been investigated by TIGTA, the Justice Department, and even the FBI. Some IRS officials involved in the scandal have resigned under the pressure. Even so, the DOJ stated that there was no evidence that any IRS official obstructed justice or attempted to obstruct justice. Big win for the IRS.

But GOP lawmakers don’t want to put this scandal to rest until justice has been served. Their target is IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, and they’re not interested in settling with contempt or obstruction charges; they want to impeach him. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and 18 other republicans have initiated the seldom-used impeachment process against Commissioner John Koskinen, which will go through the House Judiciary Committee next. Those who support impeachment of Koskinen claim that he has violated the public trust by lying about the existence of emails, or deleting emails, or allowing emails to be deleted on his watch, or any combination of these things. The IRS, of course, insists that it has fully cooperated with any and all investigations, spending upwards of $20 million and 160,000 employee hours in the process.

Interesting footnote: pursuing impeachment against an agency official is rare. Back in 1876 Congress tried to impeach War Secretary, William Belknap, but he resigned before conclusion of the process. Belknap, known as a man of virtues and flaws, was secretary to President Grant, and an attorney by trade. He went back to that trade after it was discovered that he had been involved in bribes and in selling weapons to France.

Commissioner Koskinen Asked to Resign

IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, has been on the job for only a couple years, but he was brought in at a very difficult time for the agency. He was appointed by Pres. Obama and given the task of cleaning things up at the IRS, particularly in regard to the scandal involving targeting of Tea Party groups. Now he has lawmakers calling for his resignation because of the way he has handled the debacle. I bet there are days he regrets accepting the assignment.

The most outspoken republicans insist that Koskinen lied about the missing emails. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is on record saying that Koskinen was in possession of the emails, and then after they were subpoenaed, his agency destroyed them. Many now want him to resign, and if he doesn’t, they are threatening worse. They are throwing around words like “contempt,” “obstruction of justice,” and “impeachment.”

President Obama claims that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” within the IRS, but everybody knows this isn’t true. He needs to be a little more careful with his words. The IRS is huge and people are imperfect, arrogant, and greedy. How can he say there isn’t a smidgen of corruption? He doesn’t know that. All that really means is he has had meetings with those that run the agency who say there’s no corruption, who have had meetings with high level management who say there’s no corruption, who have had meetings with lower level management, etc. There is no way any clear-thinking adult could swallow such a broad statement as that.

According to Chaffetz, there are still at least 5 open investigations into the targeting scandal, including that of TIGTA and the Department of Justice. I, for one, must admit that I am a little surprised that the news of this scandal hasn’t fizzled yet. I think it speaks to how passionate we are, as US citizens, about allegations of corruption within our government.

IRS: The Raiders of Government Agencies

Usually when people are dressed in black surrounding a hole in a solemn ceremony, its a funeral.  But Tony Sparano, the interim head coach of the 0-4 Oakland Raiders, gathered the team for a special symbolic football burial this week.  He said that the football represented the first four games of the season.  The hope is that this little exercise will help the team to put it all behind them and move forward with a clean slate.

Maybe the IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, should do something like this with his team.  I’m not sure what item(s) could be used to represent the past few years of missteps at the IRS, but to really drive the point home he would need to dig a hole the size of the Grand Canyon.  Actually, come to think of it, maybe they already did this exercise using Lois Lerner’s hard drive.  Nobody would ever consider that the IRS actually physically buried her emails in the ground.

Oakland Raiders vs. Internal Revenue Service.  Obviously the comparisons are unlimited given the fact that a Raider is actually a pirate, and a pirate is known for forcefully taking one’s hard-earned booty.  But I’ll leave this to your own imagination.

Lerner Emails not so Benign

There are just as many “crazies” in Sacramento as there are in Modesto, you just have to know where to find them.  And there are just as many Democrat crazies as there are Republicans.  After all, craziness knows no race, religion, or political preference.   Same with “—holes.”  In fact, that group may be more common than crazies.

Of course what I’m referring to here is the content of a couple emails that the now-famous Lois Lerner sent to a friend from her government issue Blackberry in 2012.  Her friend brought up the topic of right-wing radio shows and Lerner referred to the hosts and listeners of such shows as “crazies” and “—holes.”  The emails were released on Wednesday and Republican lawmakers see them as proof of Lerner’s disdain for conservatives and proof that she was targeting conservative groups’ tax-exempt status applications for extra scrutiny.

This new evidence clearly demonstrates why Ms. Lerner not only targeted conservatives, but denied such groups their rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

~ Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee

Just to play the devil’s advocate, because that’s what I like to do, there are a number of ways to rebut the accusation that Lerner is biased against conservatives.  For example, maybe she loves conservatives but dislikes the “whacko wing” of the GOP, as her friend put it.  Maybe she specifically dislikes the small faction of radio whackos in the whacko wing of the GOP.  Maybe it’s only the radio wackos in the whacko wing who actually call in and talk apocalyptically about our beloved ‘Merca and the need to protect her borders, hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end.  Maybe that’s who she thinks are the crazy assholes that don’t deserve tax-exempt status.  But even so, I think these emails suggest that she was most likely not being fair and impartial in the discharge of her official duties.

Lost Lerner Emails May Still Turn Up

Over the past several weeks, top IRS officials have maintained the position that the Lois Lerner emails were destroyed and cannot be recovered.  But recent testimony to Congress suggests otherwise.  Just as everyone on earth suspected, the emails may still exist in some sort of backup storage device or system.  After all, even the IRS knows that technology fails and you have to back things up.

I don’t know if there is a backup tape with information on it or there isn’t…There is an issue as to whether or not there is a — that all of the backup recovery tapes were destroyed on the six-month retention schedule.

~ Thomas Kane, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel

One of these “top IRS officials” is John Kos-freakin-kinen; he is the COMMISSIONER of the IRS, the highest guy on the totem pole, the captain of the ship.  Oh, and he happens to also be an ATTORNEY.  Lawyers know (every single one of them, especially cum laude Yale-educated lawyers like Koskinen) that when you’re being questioned and you don’t know the answer to the question, then your answer has to be “I don’t know.”  We lecture our clients about this before every deposition and hearing: “Don’t make up answers, and don’t guess.  If you don’t know the answer, it’s fine, just say you don’t know.” It often takes courage, and sometimes a little humility, to admit you don’t know something, especially if you’re in a position where you really should know.

Well, apparently Koskinen said the emails didn’t exist before he had confirmation of such and now his credibility is being questioned.

And isn’t this what it’s all about — the credibility of the IRS and its people?  Every single IRS scandal buries the IRS deeper in a pile of suspicion and mistrust.  How does the IRS expect taxpayers to voluntarily comply with tax laws if the agency is being run by so many incompetent leaders?  Now I know that somebody in a position like Koskinen’s often relies on the expertise and knowledge of a staff and couldn’t possibly have first-hand knowledge of everything going on within the agency.  But it seems to me that he should have at least waited for confirmation before declaring the emails unrecoverable.

IRS Claims Lerner's Emails are Unrecoverable

The IRS scandal involving the disparate treatment by the IRS of certain tax exempt organizations (or their applications for tax exempt status) still has life.  The government committees responsible for investigating the IRS “targeting scandal,” as it has come to be known, wanted to see Lois Lerner’s emails, and last week the IRS responded that they are unable to recover her emails, apparently due to the fact that her computer crashed in 2011 and the IRS did not make a practice of preserving all emails on their servers.

Experts find it hard to believe that the IRS lost the files innocently and that they cannot be recovered.  From a legal standpoint, it is common knowledge that you don’t delete emails anytime there is a potential for litigation; in fact, you do whatever you can to preserve them.  From a tech standpoint, it is difficult to believe that the emails could have simply disappeared, even if the IRS was not conscientiously backing up data at the time.  The idea that files are never really 100% gone when you delete them has some truth to it.

From a layperson point of view, it appears that we’re witnessing some sort of cover-up.  It just doesn’t pass the “smell test.”  I feel like my 10-year-old would be able to sit down at Lerner’s computer and at least find something.  But if not, in this day and age, computer geeks are a dime a dozen.  Why can’t we just hire the world’s smartest forensic geek at the FBI or CIA and be done with this?

However, as much as the experts and the general public do not believe the emails were lost inadvertently, I have to admit that the facts as we know them do not sound too far fetched to me.  From the viewpoint of a tax attorney who deals with the IRS every day, it seems plausible that the IRS really would not save or properly back-up the emails.  There’s no way the IRS could possibly save everything.  And as for Lerner’s computer crashing, well that kind of thing happens constantly at IRS service centers all around the country.  Sometimes when I’m talking with an IRS representative on the phone, I try to imagine the computer their working on and, in my mind, it usually has a 3.5″ floppy disc drive and a behemoth monitor that is twice as deep as it is wide.

Cindy Thomas Defends "Low-Level" IRS Employees in Sharp Email to Lois Lerner

At the height of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal, high-level IRS employee Lois Lerner blamed low-level IRS employees in a Cincinnati office for flagging tax-exempt applications that contained words such as “tea party” or “patriot.”  Lerner had said that “line people . . . didn’t have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others.”

But one of these underlings in Cincinnati showed plenty of sensitivity in a May 10th email to Lerner that was made public this week by investigators on the House Ways and Means Committee.  Her name is Cindy Thomas, then-director of that office.  She took offense to Lerner’s labeling of her and others as “low level employees,” noticing right away that the Cincinnati tax-exempt division was being blamed in order to protect high-level IRS management.  Tax law and IRS news can be dull at times, but Thomas’ email reads like a juicy piece of gossip:

As you can imagine, employees and managers [in the Cincinnati tax-exempt division] are furious…How am I supposed to keep the low-level workers motivated when the public believes they are nothing more than low-level and now will have no respect for how they are working cases?  The attitude/morale of employees is at the lowest it has ever been…the previous 1½ years inside the determinations unit has been miserable enough because of the division’s workload and lack of help with strategic planning from Washington…Now our leader is publicly referring to employees who are the ones producing all of this work with fewer resources than ever as low-level workers!

This is obviously more than a defensive response from a manager with a bruised ego.  I respect the way she stood up for her employees.  And because I know first-hand the condition the IRS is in (and the condition it has been in for several months now), I don’t doubt anything she said.  This email, though emotionally-charged as it is, goes to the heart of the scandal in a way that is more raw and sincere than anything we have seen to date.

Did Lerner Mishandle Official Emails?

These days I think few employers would have a problem with their employees using a company email account for personal matters.  As long as they are not goofing off while on the clock, it doesn’t cost the employer anything.  Although I am sure it is often listed as a prohibited activity in employee handbooks, I do not imagine it to be the type of rule that is strictly enforced.

But using a personal email account for business purposes is a bigger problem.  It would be unprofessional to send an official email from a personal account or to accept business emails on a personal account.  Sending internal documents from work to your own personal email account is an even bigger problem.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee apparently has been informed that Lois Lerner did just this.

Lois Lerner is the lady at the center of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal.  She was thrust into the spotlight back in May when she invoked her 5th Amendment rights, refusing to testify before Congress.  Presently, the Committee is asking Lerner to produce “all documents and communications housed in [her] msn.com account.”  She has until August 27th to comply, after which I would imagine she will be subpoenaed, after which I imagine her lawyers will dispute it as being overbroad.

What makes this behavior especially repugnant is that THIS IS THE IRS we’re talking about, not a private company!  This is a branch of the US Treasury that we trust will be able to play fairly and keep information safe and secure.  Let’s hope we find out that Lerner was actually only emailing herself an innocent meme or something…

IRS Scandal Heats up as Lerner Refuses to Testify

It is normal for the IRS to be all over the news in April, but this year, heading into the last week of May, they remain the talk of the nation.  As you probably know, at the heart of the controversy is the IRS’ unfair targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.  Many top-level Internal Revenue Service officials are coming under fire for either failing to detect the practice earlier or for failing to timely report it to Congress.  Former IRS Commissioner, Doug Shulman, has said he didn’t know for sure what was going on.  Steven Miller, the man that replaced him, has also denied any wrongdoing, before being fired by President Obama last week.

Today Lois Lerner was called to testify before Congress but, following the advice of her attorney, plead the 5th and refused to testify.  Lerner is the individual considered to be directly in charge of the branch in Cincinnati that was running afoul of IRS procedures.

I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any congressional committee.

Because I am asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I have done something wrong. I have not.

~ Lois Lerner, speaking before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

J. Russell George, the head of TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) is also a target, and I think rightly so.  It has always bothered me that TIGTA’s audits, probes, and reports seem to be rather pointless, leaving it up to the IRS to agree or disagree with TIGTA recommendations.  If there was some kind of cover up, people are going to wonder about TIGTA’s involvement.

The next step appears to be appointment of a special prosecutor, which, in the eye of the public, may elevate things to the level of the Bill Clinton scandal and Watergate.  I don’t recall the last time the IRS was in the spotlight like this, much less involving something that could be called a “scandal.”  From the looks of it, it will be a while before they can go back to the processing of amended tax returns, and the bean counting, and whatever else they usually do this time of year.