The ongoing House Republican effort to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over his handling of the so-called “IRS targeting scandal” took a turn towards creative filmmaking last week during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The testimony of witness Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chair of the House Oversight committee, revolved around an extended video created by his office and played for the committee. The video was a ten-and-a-half-minute, slickly-produced recounting of GOP allegations of Koskinen’s supposed misconduct. It bore a closer resemblance to a campaign attack ad than to the sort of the evidence typically provided in a congressional hearing.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the committee, called the move to play it during Chaffetz’s testimony “a little bit unusual.”
The video has been posted for nearly a year on the Oversight Committee’s YouTube account, and has more than 9,000 views, which Chaffetz bragged about at Tuesday’s hearing.
But House Judiciary Democrats wondered whether it was appropriate to play the video as part of witness testimony, particularly because, as Conyers noted, the identity of even its narrator was unknown when Chaffetz played it for the committee. They also hinted that it was perhaps not the best use of taxpayer-funded congressional resources.
“Was that video produced by those congressional employees while they were on congressional time?” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) asked Chaffetz in a series of questions about its origins. He followed up to ask whether they used congressionally-owned equipment to make it.
Chaffetz, meanwhile, praised his staffers for their work on the video, while refusing to comment whether the video had been used for any other purposes outside of the congressional investigation into the IRS.
Republicans say Koskinen — who was not at the IRS at the time it allegedly was giving tougher scrutiny to conservative-leaning groups claiming tax exempt status — deserves to be impeached because he got in the way of their investigation into Lois Lerner, official most involved with assessing groups’ tax exemption claims. The video climaxes with an image of a broken hard drive, as the IRS said it threw away Lerner’s hard drive — which Republicans believe contained incriminating emails — because it was broken. The image of of a smashed-up hard drive, which is flashed a number of times, was actually taken from a hard drive data recovery blog called EcoDataRecovery.com.
The video features all the highlights of Republicans’ claims that Koskinen’s handling of the “targeting” scandal was worthy of impeachment. It includes many of the hallmarks of a political attack ad, with dramatic background music, grainy footage, and black-and-white images repeatedly cut in.
“I found the video to be very artistic. … I would say it was professionally produced,” Johnson mused, which Chaffetz called a “huge compliment.”
The video also features clips of reporters chiming in on various aspects of the targeting scandal as well as Lerner’s assertion that she would take the Fifth in congressional testimony.
“There must be accountability,” the narrator, apparently a member of Chaffetz’s staff, says.
As Dana Milbank noted at the Washington Post, the hearing was filled with other moments that, at the very least, broke with the conventions of a proceeding as grave as weighing a possible impeachment. Only 19 times in U.S. history has the House voted to impeach public officials, and only three of them were officials in the executive branch.
At least twice during last Tuesday’s hearing, House Republicans cited Wikipedia to assert their arguments as to why impeachment proceedings for Koskinen should go forward. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) quoted its definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” while Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) referenced the Wikipedia entry for the Watergate scandal to compare it to the allegations against the IRS.
House conservatives were given the green light by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to hold the hearing only after they threatened to bring impeaching Koskinen up for a full floor vote, according to the Hill. Chaffetz has held numerous hearings in his own committee to air allegations against the IRS, but only the Judiciary Committee can move forward with an impeachment. Once Ryan folded on the hardliners’ request for more hearings, House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) announced that there would be two hearings on the agency’s supposed misconduct earlier this month, though notably the hearing titles did not include the word “impeachment.”
Koskinen was asked to appear at last week’s hearing, but declined.