Ted Cruz thwacked the gavel—and then thwacked the IRS.
The Texas senator and presidential candidate is using his perch on a Senate subcommittee to flay the Internal Revenue Service, an agency that he says shouldn't exist as we know it.
With Commissioner John Koskinen seated in front of him on Wednesday, Cruz tore into the agency's alleged abuses of power—namely its extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status and its destruction (inadvertent, the agency says) of e-mails sent by Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS exempt organizations office.
"Richard Nixon's ghost must have been smiling," Cruz said, comparing the IRS' actions to the destruction of audio tapes in the Watergate scandal and pausing to applaud Nixon's decision to resign. "No politician has the right to use the machinery of the executive branch to target their political enemies."
The sentiment wasn't bipartisan. Delaware's mild-mannered Chris Coons, given the task of following Cruz, said the Texan was basically rehashing debunked conspiracy theories and offering up "unfounded allegations" that anyone in Washington directed targeting of conservative groups.
House Republicans, including Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, have called for President Barack Obama to fire Koskinen and have threatened impeachment for misleading Congress.
Cruz hasn't gone there during this hearing—at least not yet.
And unsurprisingly, neither has the White House. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said on Wednesday that Koskinen is "a man of the highest integrity" who is the "right person" to lead the IRS.
Obama nominated Koskinen in 2013 to revamp the agency after the controversy about Tea Party groups prompted the resignation of Steve Miller, then the acting commissioner.