IRS Head Defends Destruction of Lois Lerner’s Hard Drive
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The Fiscal Times
June 20, 2014

In a different age, a man called a liar to his face as many times as John Koskinen was on Friday would have been demanding pistols at dawn. But in our ostensibly more civilized era, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service sat in the witness chair in a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday and let the abuse spewing from theatrically angry lawmakers wash over him.

“Nobody believes you,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) fairly shouted.

Related: Lawmakers Want to Dig Up IRS’s ‘Hard Drive Cemetery

“You’ve lost all credibility,” thundered Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).

The hearing was called after it was revealed last week that the agency had lost some emails sent to and from Lois Lerner, the retired head of the agency’s Exempt Organizations division. Lerner was one of a number of IRS employees implicated in the practice of identifying conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status and singling them out for greater scrutiny. She has invoked her Constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination in refusing to testify before Congress.

Ever since it was revealed that the agency had wrongly targeted conservative groups, House Republicans have been pursuing every possible lead that might connect the scandal to the White House. So far they have met with no success, but when it was revealed last week that Lerner’s hard drive had crashed in 2011, destroying an untold number of emails from 2009 to 2011, the conspiracy theorists sensed that they were getting traction. When Koskinen revealed Friday that Lerner’s hard drive was recycled — after the IRS’s respected Criminal Investigation Division’s computer forensics lab determined it was beyond salvaging — they shifted into overdrive.

Related: Did IRS Violate the Law on Lerner’s Email?

Koskinen was brought in to help shape up the IRS in December of last year, and was not even at the agency when the improper targeting took place. Republicans’ main problem with him is that the committee members do not feel they were informed of the missing emails in a timely manner.

Whether or not the IRS was forthcoming with information seems to be a fair question, and in his testimony, Koskinen made the case that information was given to Congress as it was processed by the agency.

But some GOP members seemed intent on going much further. Several members of the panel tried relentlessly to create the impression that the hard drive had been recycled after congressional investigators began looking into the targeting scandal. Koskinen was forced to keep repeating the point that the decision to throw away a useless piece of equipment was made three years ago, well before any investigation started.

Koskinen also spent considerable time knocking down assertions by Republicans that emails from other key figures in the case had been lost due to computer crashes. The IRS informed Congress on Monday that six other computers belonging to employees that are part of the investigation had suffered crashes. Republicans immediately reported that the IRS was reporting that their emails were all lost as well.

Rep. Camp and Oversight Subcommittee chair Charles Boustany, Jr., (R-LA) put out a press release claiming that emails from all six had been lost. A spokesperson for the Ways and Means committee told The Fiscal Times, “their computers crashed and were deemed unrecoverable.” The IRS did not respond to multiple requests for clarification on the status of the hard drives. 

Related: House GOP Demands Answers from Obama on Lerner Emails

Koskinen corrected the record in his testimony Friday. While there were crashes, he said, technicians had been able to recover all of the data from some of the computers, and with time might be able to salvage the files from all of them.

In case Koskinen’s message didn’t get through Friday, he’ll have a chance to go through much the same process next week, when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), head of the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations, has summoned him to another hearing.

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A longtime reporter on the intersection of the federal government and the private sector, Rob Garver is National Correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He has written for ProPublica, The New York Times and other publications.