EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

June 23, 2014

Column: Last straw for IRS should lead to special counsel

John Koskinen, who heads the Internal Revenue Service as its appointed commissioner, already has misled Congress once on the subject of former IRS official Lois Lerner and her disappearing email.

The IRS is accused of targeting nonprofit applicants with “tea party” or other right-leaning identifiers in their names for heightened scrutiny. Lerner once headed the division that handles applications for tax-exempt status. She has refused to testify, beyond asserting her innocence, wielding her Fifth Amendment shield against self-incrimination.

With her silence, members of Congress -- and, one presumes, the Justice Department investigators supposedly looking for potential crimes -- hoped her emails from roughly 2009 to 2011 would shed some light on who was involved in the targeting and whether the idea originated outside the IRS. No such luck, apparently.

Despite having requests and then subpoenas for more than a year, the IRS revealed only last Friday that Lerner’s email communications with anyone outside the tax-collecting agency had vanished in a 2011 hard-drive crash, with recovery impossible. This, despite federal retention laws and the IRS’ own regulations.

This is curious on two fronts. For one, the IRS apparently knew in February that it couldn’t locate about 50,000 Lerner emails from 2009 to 2011. Second, Koskinen testified in March that while the subpoena was “too broad,” the IRS could produce the emails if Congress was willing to wait “months or years.”

Oh, and the too-convenient-by-half computer disaster must have been one for the ages, since similar crashes wiped out relevant emails from six other agency officials. (On the bright side, this might be an excuse worth remembering for your next IRS audit: “Sorry, fellas, computer crash!”)

If there were a last straw to this mess, wouldn’t this be it? It’s almost impossible to overstate the seriousness of an IRS accused of using its immense power to discriminate against groups based on ideology. Conservatives shouldn’t stand alone in their anger; imagine the same circumstances with a Republican, instead of Democratic Barack Obama, in the White House.

The transparent evasion of the lost Lois Lerner emails, almost an insult to credulous Americans, should embarrass the Obama administration into doing what it should have done all along. Which is to name a special counsel to provide the only independent investigation that will satisfy those Americans who still wish to have faith in their federal government.

This editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

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