The admission by the Internal Revenue Service last week that it had lost an untold number of emails from the account of a central figure in multiple Congressional investigations virtually guaranteed serious backlash from Republican legislators. On Monday, they began to deliver.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. (R-LA) announced that they would question IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a June 24 hearing, and said that they had sent requests to half a dozen executive branch agencies for relevant email records.
At issue is the correspondence of Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division. After it was revealed in 2012 that Lerner’s division had targeted politically active groups for extra scrutiny, Congressional Republicans began demanding explanations from the agency. Though there is evidence that the IRS was skeptical of both conservative and liberal political organizations, it is the possibility that the agency targeted groups affiliated with the ultra-conservative Tea Party that has received the most attention from lawmakers.
Investigations have been opened by multiple Congressional panels, as well as the Justice Department, and have been ongoing for more than a year. However, it was only last week that the IRS informed lawmakers that it had lost an unknown number of Lerner’s emails sent between 2009 and 2011, which they say was because the hard drive in her computer crashed.
A document delivered to Congress revealed IRS policy allows individual employees to decide which of their own emails ought to be considered public records, and requires them to save them on the hard drive of their individual computers. In the event those hard drives should crash – as Lerner’s did – electronic versions of those emails can be lost. (IRS employees are required to print out all emails that get archived, but as of Monday night, the agency had not replied to questions about whether Lerner had complied with that requirement.)
The IRS was able to recover many of Lerner’s lost emails because other IRS employees had saved them on their own computers. However, the damaged hard drive made it impossible for the agency to account for email correspondence between Lerner and outside entities.
The announcement by Camp and Boustany Monday said they had “sent requests for all communications between Lois Lerner and any persons working at the White House, Treasury Department, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Election Commission, and Occupational Safety & Health Administration.”
When Koskinen appears before the committee, they wrote, “He will be directly questioned about what, if any, IRS rules were broken with regard to the failure to preserve documents, when he and IRS staff knew that the documents were lost, and if the IRS exhausted all efforts to recover the documents – including consultation with outside experts.”
In a statement, the lawmakers said, “We are simply not going to accept the IRS claim that these documents are not recoverable. We will demand the President live up to his promise to work ‘hand in hand’ with Congress to get the facts. He can do so by quickly ordering his White House and key agencies to immediately conduct an exhaustive search for all Lois Lerner emails. There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by an independent special investigator.”
Camp and Boustany also sent a letter to the White House requesting the administration’s full cooperation in the investigation.
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