It’s been about two years since Republicans and much of the Beltway media thought it had finally uncovered a real White House “scandal.” According to the narrative, the Obama administration used the Internal Revenue Service to “target” conservatives, which represented an outrageous abuse of power.
For about a week, it looked like a serious, proper controversy, worthy of outrage. Soon after, however, the whole thing collapsed – the tax agency scrutinized liberal, conservative, and non-ideological groups, effectively ending the story. Every allegation, including conspiracy theories about White House involvement, evaporated into nothing. For two years, GOP lawmakers looked for evidence of wrongdoing, and for two years they found no proof to bolster their apoplexy.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, to see 21 House Republicans hold a press conference late yesterday, trying anew to breathe life into a discredited story. The Washington Post reported:
Twenty-one House Republicans on Monday called for the firing of IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen after they said he failed to cooperate with their inquiry into the targeting of conservative groups by tax investigators.Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made those charges in a 29-page letter to President Obama that follows two years of wrangling with IRS officials over documents and testimony related to the targeting allegations.
At the press conference, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), burdened by a few real and unfortunate scandals of his own, actually argued that the IRS controversy “surpasses Watergate.” He didn’t appear to be kidding.
Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.
Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.
There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the oversight committee, had the audacity to rain on the GOP’s parade.
“This is a strange, oddly-timed rehashing of conspiracy theories that were debunked by the Inspector General himself – who concluded in a report to the Oversight Committee just last month that there is no evidence to substantiate these claims,” Cummings said in a statement Monday. “There is no new information here.“The bottom line is that the Inspector General found no evidence to back-up Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement, or intentional destruction of evidence,” Cummings went on. “Calls for Commissioner Koskinen to step down are nothing more than a manufactured Republican political crisis based on allegations that have already been debunked.”
The detail to remember here is simple: everything Cummings said is correct. In fact, yesterday’s press conference appeared to be an example of House Republicans throwing a tantrum just for the sake of throwing a tantrum – they still have no evidence of an actual scandal and they offered literally nothing new yesterday other than their own misplaced outrage.
This isn’t even a close call. Cummings pointed to the recent release of a report from the IRS inspector general’s office, which made explicitly clear to the Oversight Committee that there’s just nothing here. Republicans accused Lois Lerner of deliberately crashing a hard drive; the inspector general found the opposite. Republicans said back-up tapes were intentionally destroyed; the inspector general found the opposite. Republicans said Koskinen tried to hide information from Congress; the inspector general found the opposite. Republicans said the IRS hid damaging emails; the inspector general found the opposite.
Why GOP lawmakers even bothered with yesterday’s press conference is something of a mystery. Maybe they were bored. Maybe someone needed a pretense for a new fundraising letter. Whatever the reasoning, there’s still no reason to take any of this nonsense seriously.