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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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IRS scandal: New life from destroyed evidence

What was the key educational point to emerge from Monday night’s rare prime-time visit by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen with the House Oversight Committee? Perhaps this: Koskinen believes the convenient destruction of evidence is sufficient reason to shut down an investigation.

Oh, there was other stuff, too, such as Koskinen’s assertion that withholding information from Congress for two months — information about conveniently destroyed evidence freely shared with the White House, perhaps under the subject line, “Mission Accomplished” — amounts to full cooperation.

Also that the dribs-and-drabs method of complying with congressional subpoenas was the fault of Congress’ wide-ranging inquiries, and had nothing at all to do with the agency supplying only what it wanted to supply when it wanted to supply it.

But the central instructional message was the first one noted: Evidence from the key 26-month stretch has, according to the IRS chief brought in to clean up the mess, been eradicated from the Earth. Accordingly, Koskinen mustered a world-weary nothing-to-see-here attitude, presented with a condescending air that suggested everybody ought to be satisfied, content to move on.

About that. Even some Democrats are not amused. As Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, “It looks terrible. And it allows — there have been a lot of hearings on this and honestly, it gives some much steam behind this as an issue. And I get it. And it’s awful. And this guy did a terrible job, being arrogant, yesterday. We all think of the IRS as arrogant anyway and he kind of confirmed that.”

To arrogant let us add smug, self-righteous, officious, untrustworthy, smirking and despicable. Over at Power Line, contributor Scott Johnson calls Koskinen “a front man for the Democrats” — he’s a longtime, six-figure donor, by the way — and as such is imbued with a distinctly Obama-like say-anything audacity, which Johnson does not mean to be flattering.

Consider a portion of the exchange between Koskinen and Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican, former federal prosecutor and soon-to-be chair of the select committee investigating the Benghazi massacre. Koskinen claims Lois Lerner, former head of the department screening applications for tax-exempt status and famous for asserting Fifth-Amendment protections, was innocent of criminal wrongdoing in the vanishing emails caper — based, as noted above, on “common sense,” he says — but Gowdy wasn’t buying the notion that this was signal for wrapping up the probe.

“With regard to the production of the evidence, the production of Lois Lerner emails, I have seen no evidence of wrongdoing,” Koskinen said. “What else went on with Lois Lerner, I said in the past — ”

“So what you’re saying is, you don’t have any idea whether she engaged in criminal wrongdoing. You’re just saying that you did not engage in any with respect to the emails.”

“I haven’t seen any wrongdoing with regard to the production of Lois Lerner emails,” Koskinen agreed.

“But you are not saying there was no criminal wrongdoing with respect to the targeting of conservative groups? I want to be very clear. You’re not saying that,” Gowdy clarified.

“I’ve made no judgments about that,” Koskinen said. Gowdy picked up the thread a few moments later.

“I’m just simply saying we will never know because you didn’t keep the evidence. The evidence was foliated (destroyed). And whether it’s negligent, whether it’s intentional, whether it’s reckless — we still don’t have the evidence, Commissioner.”

Instead, what we have is a Chicxulub-sized crater in the email record involving Lerner and six others linked to the misappropriating of the IRS for political purposes. But its presence, accompanied by the IRS’ unscrupulous failure to disclose it in a timely manner, far from being an extinction-level event, gives the scandal new life and fresh purpose.

I mean, however it’s accomplished, you just can’t go around destroying evidence. Richard Nixon did — the 18 1/2-minute gap in the Oval Office tapes remains notorious to this day — on the way to his resignation 40 years ago.