A sign identifies the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2010.
Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty

Congress holds IRS impeachment vote as Trump eyes new commissioner

The 114th Congress is, mercifully, nearly over, but as we saw yesterday, lawmakers aren’t quite done considering ridiculous ideas. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The House of Representatives turned aside an attempt by conservative hard-liners to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for his handling of congressional investigations into the tax agency.

Instead, in a 342-72 vote, the House sent the issue back to the Judiciary Committee, which hasn’t held a formal impeachment hearing or voted on the matter.
The vote effectively ends the impeachment crusade, at least for a while. The House’s GOP majority could start the process anew next year, but there wouldn’t be any point.

The fact that this even reached the House floor yesterday is something of an embarrassment. Circling back to our previous coverage, the IRS “scandal” was discredited years ago – Koskinen wasn’t even at the tax agency when the imaginary controversy unfolded – and as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) documented in May, charges that Koskinen was part of some kind of after-the-fact cover-up don’t make any sense.

Koskinen took on the job of improving the IRS out of a sense of duty – the president asked this veteran public official to tackle a thankless task, and Koskinen reluctantly agreed. For his trouble, a sizable group of far-right House Republicans have tried to impeach him, for reasons even they have struggled to explain.

Of course, whether or not Congress approves, Koskinen won’t lead the IRS much longer. As the Journal’s article added, Koskinen, who’s now 77, “serves a fixed term that ends in November 2017. [Donald Trump] could force him out or could wait until the end of Mr. Koskinen’s term and appoint his successor, who must be confirmed by the Senate.”

And that raises some interesting possibilities.

Politico reported a couple of weeks ago that Trump will be in a position to nominate Koskinen’s successor, and there’s nothing to stop the Republican president “from appointing an IRS chief who will go easy on him.”
President-elect Donald Trump will soon be able to appoint a new director of the agency auditing his taxes, a potential political minefield after his write-offs and his refusal to release his returns were repeatedly questioned in the campaign.

The president is barred from directing how the IRS treats specific taxpayers, but lawyers say there’s nothing to stop Trump from appointing an IRS chief who will go easy on him while scrutinizing his political enemies.
The article added that the IRS is supposed to be insulated from political pressure from the White House, but those restrictions are largely based on “political norms.”

If Donald J. Trump has demonstrated one thing with abundant clarity, it’s that he doesn’t care about political norms in the slightest.

There’s also the matter, of course, of Trump’s adversarial relationship with the tax agency itself. The president-elect has been accused of tax-evasion and playing fast and loose with federal tax law, which he claims has led to a series of IRS audits. Though we don’t know for certain whether or not those audits have occurred in reality, according to Trump, they are still ongoing.

The result is an unsettling situation in which Trump may soon name the head of an agency that’s examining whether Trump broke the law. What could possibly go wrong?

Postscript: One more relevant tidbit from the Politico piece: “The IRS also reviews the president’s and vice president’s returns each year, but those audits aren’t required by law, and Trump could stop them.”



Donald Trump, Impeachment and IRS

Congress holds IRS impeachment vote as Trump eyes new commissioner