WASHINGTON—Members of the House Ways and Means Committee did not get the apology they were looking for on Friday from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
In a heated hearing on Capitol Hill, committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and other lawmakers asked why, in the ongoing investigation of the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Congress only heard about missing emails tied to the investigation months after the IRS and the White House knew they were lost.
Camp said the IRS’s delay in telling Congress adds to the reasons that “Congress and the American people cannot take the IRS at its word.”
In his testimony, Koskinen said the IRS “identified the possibility of an issue” with Lois Lerner’s emails in February. Lerner, the former director of Exempt Organizations with the IRS, has refused to testify on Capitol Hill about her role. In May, lawmakers in the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress.
IRS officials now say they cannot locate Lerner’s emails from a two-year stretch when the targeting of conservative groups took place. The IRS has said Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011 along with the computers of six other IRS employees tied to the targeting scheme.
Camp and other lawmakers argue Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2011 could provide crucial evidence in the investigation. When asked why Congress did not learn of the crash earlier, Koskinen said he waited to notify Congress until the IRS could perform a complete investigation, not wanting to “dribble out the information.” The Treasury Department, though, knew in April that the emails were missing.
Koskinen defended his choice to delay telling Congress about the lost emails, saying, “I don’t think an apology is owed.”
“This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “This is incredible.”
To the question of where Lerner’s failed hard drive is today, Koskinen could only reply it was “recycled and destroyed.”
Many members of the committee pointed out the IRS seems to be holding itself to a separate set of standards than it expects of the American people.
“You can reach into the lives of hard-working taxpayers and with a phone call, an email, or a letter, you can turn their lives upside down,” Ryan said. He found it hard to believe taxpayers must keep seven years of their personal information in case of auditing and the IRS “can’t keep six months of employee emails.”
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said the IRS system for backing up emails was “entirely underfunded and wholly deficient.” A June 13 statement from the IRS says it reused email backup tapes after six months for cost-efficiency. If it were to keep the tapes it would cost the IRS $200,000 per year.
But Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, did not accept that explanation. “I am far too familiar with the rampant wasteful spending at the IRS,” he said. “The IRS’s failure to backup employee emails began long before any budget cuts.”
Koskinen said in his written testimony, “We are committed to working cooperatively and transparently with you.” But Ryan returned, “No one believes you.”