WASHINGTON — The head of the IRS said Monday his agency has provided Congress with hundreds of thousands of documents, brushing aside accusations that the IRS has obstructed investigations into the targeting of tea party and other political groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Commissioner John Koskinen was appearing at a rare evening hearing on Capitol Hill to answer questions about lost emails by a key figure in the probe.
Koskinen told the House Oversight Committee in prepared testimony that congressional investigators were informed months ago that Lois Lerner had computer problems back in 2011. Koskinen said emails provided to the committee last fall showed that Lerner’s computer had crashed.
The emails indicate that Lerner had lost some data, though they don’t explicitly say that Lerner’s emails were lost. They were provided to congressional investigators as part of the tea party investigation.
“So it should be clear that no one has been keeping this information from Congress,” Koskinen said in prepared testimony.
The IRS in 2011 lost an untold number of emails to and from Lerner. She is the former head of the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The Oversight Committee is investigating the handling of applications from tea party and other political groups.
Koskinen said the IRS inspector general is investigating the lost emails.
“It is not unusual for computers anywhere to fail, especially at the IRS in light of the aged equipment IRS employees often have to use in light of the continual cuts in its budget these past four years,” Koskinen said. “Since Jan. 1 of this year, for example, over 2,000 employees have suffered hard drive crashes.”
Ahead of the hearing, committee Chairman Darrell Issa asked Koskinen to address a series of technical questions about the agency’s email system and its policy for retaining official documents.
The title of the hearing suggests that Issa, R-Calif., already has reached some conclusions. The hearing is called, “IRS Obstruction: Lois Lerner’s Missing Emails.”
Instead of an invitation, Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed Koskinen to testify.
“I will not tolerate your continued obstruction and game-playing in response to the committee’s investigation of the IRS targeting,” Issa wrote to Koskinen. “For too long, the IRS has promised to produce requested — and later subpoenaed — documents, only to respond later with excuses and inaction.”
“Despite your empty promises and broken commitments to cooperation, the IRS still insists on flouting Constitutional congressional oversight,” Issa said.
Koskinen had a long record of government service before taking over as head of the IRS at the start of the year. He served in different positions under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and worked for the District of Columbia.
“It’ll be the first time in my long career of testifying anybody ever subpoenaed me but if that’s the way they want to operate, that’s fine with me,” Koskinen said Friday. “I just got a subpoena announcing that I was to appear at 7 o’clock on Monday night with no inquiry, no request, no question whether I was even going to be in town.”
Lerner, who is now retired from the IRS, has refused to testify at two Oversight Committee hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Koskinen was defiant at a hearing on Friday before the House Ways and Means Committee, refusing to apologize for the lost emails. He said the emails were lost in 2011, before any investigations into the targeting of political groups.
Koskinen said there was no evidence that Lerner intentional destroyed the emails. To the contrary, the IRS went to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on Lerner’s computer, even sending it to the agency’s forensic lab, he said.
The Oversight Committee is holding a second hearing on the lost emails Tuesday, which has sparked a back-and-forth with the White House. Issa invited an attorney in the White House counsel’s office to testify, though the White House says her appearance isn’t necessary.
Issa responded Monday evening by issuing a subpoena for Jennifer O’Connor, who worked at the IRS from May to November 2013, helping the agency gather documents related to congressional investigations, Issa said. O’Connor has since moved to the White House counsel’s office.
Issa said he wanted to ask O’Connor about Lerner’s lost emails. But in a letter to Issa, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said O’Connor left the IRS before the agency discovered that the emails were missing.