Stonewall Koskinen

I am not aware of a single Democrat who is speaking up.
Nine months have passed since President Obama installed John Koskinen as IRS Commissioner, charged with unearthing the agency’s targeting scandal and restoring its credibility. It’s about nine months past time to acknowledge that Mr. Koskinen is the problem, not the answer.

The 75-year-old former Fannie Mae FNMA +4.36% executive on Wednesday put in another superficial appearance before House investigators, spent another two hours dodging questions, jabbing at investigators, and excusing the misdeeds of the least-trusted organization in America. This from the guy brought in to clean up the mess—a man presented in confirmation as a “turnaround artist” and “reformer.”

The Koskinen fail is now becoming a central political focus, as Republicans and even some Democrats question his tenure. Mr. Obama had declared him someone who “knows how to lead in difficult times, whether that means ensuring new management or implementing new checks and balances.” Where are the sweeping changes? Where’s the accountability? When the best the IRS commissioner can promise America is that “whenever we can, we follow the law”—we’re in worse shape than nine months ago.

The only thing Mr. Koskinen has seemed remotely interested in turning around is his agency’s ugly story-line. He has yet to even accept his agency did anything wrong, spending a March hearing arguing that the IRS didn’t engage in “targeting” and claiming the Treasury inspector general agreed. This was so misleading the Washington Post gave Mr. Koskinen “three Pinocchios, ” noting the IG had testified to the exact opposite.

Under his management, the agency has ignored and strung out congressional demands for documents and witnesses. Mr. Koskinen waited months to tell Congress the IRS had “lost” the emails of Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center the probe, and arguably only did so because an outside lawsuit revealed that the email record was incomplete. He testified that there were no backup tapes with Lerner emails, but we have since learned there are 760 server drives that may contain copies.

The “reformer” has bristled at every question. He’s indignant that investigators might question how the Lerner emails were lost; indignant that they’d ask why her BlackBerry BB.T -2.90% was wiped after their investigation began; indignant that they’d wonder why he didn’t tell them about the lost email. We’re still waiting for him to show any indignation at the IRS employees who abused the law, and hid the fact.

The charitable explanation is that Mr. Koskinen has gone native. He’s shown signs from the start, when he put his focus not on reform but on getting his agency more money and improving “employee morale.” Mr. Koskinen is currently making the congressional rounds with a plea for the authority to offer higher pay—in excess of statutory caps—to certain IRS employees, including members of the IT department that can’t keep track of emails.

The more cynical explanation is that the president chose Mr. Koskinen as someone who could be trusted to stonewall congressional questions. That’s a fair conclusion given his lack of cooperation and the increasingly partisan language the IRS commissioner is hurling at Republicans. “There are some people who don’t want a straight story,” said Mr. Koskinen in July. “I’m not sure if people really want a special prosecutor,” he stated, because then “you wouldn’t be holding all these fun hearings every week or two.”

It’s also a fair conclusion given the “independent” commissioner’s embrace of partisan Obama policies, including the highly controversial regulation to formalize the targeting of 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy groups. Mr. Koskinen inherited that outrageous proposal, and the obvious course for anybody looking to restore IRS integrity would have been to immediately table it. Instead, Mr. Koskinen embraced it, defended it with administration talking points, and only decided to delay it after an avalanche of criticism.

It’s a fair conclusion, too, as evidence mounts that the entire administration is working toward a cover-up. The Justice Department initially tried to quell the targeting uproar by announcing an investigation. Then we heard that leading that probe was the Civil Rights Division’s Barbara Bosserman, an Obama donor. So Justice reassured Congress that its Public Integrity unit was also involved.

We now know the head of Public Integrity, Jack Smith, worked with Ms. Lerner in 2010 to potentially build criminal cases against 501(c)(4) nonprofits. His subordinate, Richard Pilger, head of the election crimes branch, worked with her to obtain a massive database on those groups. That file landed with the FBI, implicating it in the Lerner circle. Justice isn’t investigating; it’s stonewalling.

Which gets back to what to do about Mr. Koskinen. Republicans have largely refrained from calling for his resignation, in the belief that any replacement would be more of the same. What’s become clear is that the administration is determined to squelch the IRS probe through 2016. The public is better off understanding that, and realizing, too, that Mr. Koskinen is walking point.

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Kim Strassel: Stonewall Koskinen – WSJ.


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