Power to investigate the government mustn’t be erased

congressHere are two important questions which are often obscured by the noise and spatter from the blood sport of electoral politics.

Does honest government matter?

Can anything be done to prevent dishonest government or clean it up?

The answer to the first question is yes, it matters. Voters make choices based on the information they have. A government that makes dishonest statements cannot claim to have the consent of the governed. Instead, it’s governing by force and fraud.

The answer to the second question is yes, unless the government is dishonest.

The tools for preventing and cleaning up dishonest government include laws like the Inspector General Act of 1978, which created internal watchdog offices in government agencies, Justice Department prosecutions and congressional oversight.

It’s easy to dismiss congressional investigations as politically motivated, but the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to conduct oversight, per the language of Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment,” and “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

A necessary part of the power to impeach is the power to investigate.

The House has just initiated impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He’s accused of failing to respond to a lawful subpoena for documents, obstructing a congressional investigation, giving false and misleading statements under oath, and failing to competently oversee an investigation into “Internal Revenue Service targeting of Americans based on their political affiliation.”

Because the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is left to our elected representatives, impeachment is completely different from criminal charges, which the Justice Department declined to bring against anyone in the case of the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,’’ Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress. “But poor management is not a crime. We found no evidence that that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.’’

They may have found no evidence because 422 back-up tapes containing the e-mail correspondence of IRS official Lois Lerner were degaussed (magnetically erased) by IRS employees. The Treasury Department’s inspector general said the destruction of the tapes happened “on or around March 4, 2014, one month after the IRS realized they were missing emails from Lois Lerner, and approximately eight months after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested ‘all documents and communications sent by, received by or copied to Lois Lerner.’”

Was it a misunderstanding or a successful cover-up?

Consider this: Last year, 47 inspectors general signed a letter protesting that three agencies, including the Justice Department, were obstructing investigations of alleged wrongdoing. Then in July, the Justice Department issued a new policy that blocks IGs from gaining access to certain kinds of evidence, including grand jury and wiretap information, unless they first obtain the permission of the head of the agency they’re investigating.

Nixon was run out of town for less.

If an administration won’t investigate itself, there’s no tool in the toolbox except congressional oversight and, if necessary, impeachment.

The only other check on dishonest government is the ballot box. But first, voters would have to believe that honest government matters.

IRS admits the “lost” Lerner emails

In the era of digital permanence, where terabytes of texts, emails and communications are automatically saved onto cloud servers and backed up via multiple redundant outlets, the IRS is claiming that thousands of critical emails in the investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing at the agency have been “lost.”  The assertion is comically absurd – after all, the government, which by many accounts is or has actively monitored millions of communications a year via the NSA, is simultaneously claiming that critical emails between principal subjects of the inquiry are now missing.  This week, the IRS commissioner admitted in Congressional testimony that the agency did not save the emails on Ms. Lerner’s blackberry, and it has no way of obtaining the information contained therein.  It would seem that federal officials are able to monitor all communications in America except their own. 130521_lois_lerner_2_328_js_605

Recall that this episode initially began with the surprise announcement last year that the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups with increased scrutiny, as well as delayed their non-profit approval status, in an effort to limit the influence of their voice in the arena of public opinion.  After admitting its mistake, which by many accounts borders on the criminal, the IRS is now losing the public’s trust to an even greater degree.

One would naturally assume that the IRS must have some backup mechanism in place in order to protect critical information.  Mysteriously, however, the backup mechanism has also failed to yield the aforementioned communications.  If the backup truly failed, the next logical step would be to assume that the recipients of the email communications of the target individual could be collected to piece together at least a large portion of the relevant communications.  After all, there should be two copies of every email communication; one from the sender, and one for the recipient.  Surely, many subordinates and direct reports would have substantial communications with the relevant individuals which would help investigators piece together whether any criminal wrongdoing occurred.  It appears, however, that even this method is running into brick walls.

The IRS recently revealed that the emails of five key IRS officials, including an aide to Ms. Lerner, have also been “lost.”  The announcement comes after a key correspondence between Ms. Lerner and an IRS IT employee has been produced, in which Ms. Lerner asked if text messages are automatically backed up on IRS servers.  When the employee responded in the negative, she replied, “Perfect.”  One can logically deduce that Ms. Lerner did not want the contents of her communications to be revealed to the public.

Ms. Lerner, an agent held with the public trust in the collection of hard working taxpayer dollars, is hiding something.   The IRS needs to find this critical information.  The public needs to keep up sufficient pressure to ensure that the communications are located.

One need only imagine the scenario in reverse to ascertain how absurd the government’s position is in this matter.   Assume the IRS conducts a routine audit of an individual or private business (just recently, the Breitbart News, a well known conservative media outlet, announced that it is being audited by the IRS).  Certain records regarding business expenditures and other tax efficient write-offs are accidentally “misplaced” by the entity being audited.  Then the business or individual argues to the IRS that the relevant documents cannot be located.  The IRS would have little empathy in such a scenario, and the taxpayer would almost certainly lose the tax exemptions he or she was originally claiming.

It has long been said in America that no man or woman, including the President of the United States, is above the law.  Let us see whether the same can be said for the IRS.  So far, their silence and “missing” emails speaks volumes.

Ben Everard is a contributor to Capoliticalreview.com.