WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service did not follow the law when it failed to report the loss of Lois Lerner’s emails, according to an archivist from the the National Archives and Records Administration.
When asked by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., during a congressional hearing Tuesday whether the IRS broke the law, Archivist David Ferriero said “they did not follow the law.”
The Federal Records Act requires agencies to notify the archives administration of disposal or destruction of federal records.
“Any agency is required to notify us when they realize they have a problem,” Ferriero said during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Congress wasn’t told about the loss of Lerner’s emails until June, though the IRS notified the Treasury Department in April, which then informed the White House. Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division, is at the heart of the IRS scandal over targeting conservative groups.
The House held two IRS hearings in less than 24 hours this week. During a hearing Monday evening, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen admitted the IRS did not take every last measure to recover Lerner’s emails. The messages may contain evidence that the IRS was targeting non-profits, particularly conservative and tea party groups, because of their political leanings. Lerner has invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress. The House held her in contempt in May.
Lerner’s supposed hard drive crash occurred on June 13, 2011, just 10 days after the IRS learned Congress was looking deeper into whether the agency was targeting specific conservative groups. Koskinen said the agency had a six-month disaster recovery tape, but it would have been “very complicated,” “very costly,” and “difficult” to extract emails from it. Koskinen admitted the IRS didn’t try to get the emails during the six months the recovery tape existed.
“You made a big point over the last week about all the efforts you’re going through, but they were backed up on tape, and you didn’t do it?” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked Monday.
“As far as I know they did not,” Koskinen replied.
Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., accused Koskinen of misleading the Oversight Committee in March when he promised to turn over all Lerner’s emails.
“You worked to cover up the fact that there were missing emails and came forward to fess up on Friday afternoon only after you had effectively been caught red-handed,” Issa said. “I’m sick and tired of your game-playing.”
Koskinen claims he didn’t know about Lerner’s computer crash until April, but said some Information Technology people knew earlier.
“I did not say I would provide you emails that disappeared,” Koskinen responded. “If you have a magical way for me to do that, I’d be happy to know about it.”
The House committee also questioned former IRS employee Jennifer O’Connor, who is now counsel at the White House. She wouldn’t give names of people who reported to her during her time at the IRS from May to November 2013, when she was responsible for gathering documents related to the congressional investigation. O’Connor said she only learned that emails were gone the “week before last.”
“I didn’t hear that any of Ms. Lerner’s emails were missing,” she said.