At a congressional inquiry into thousands of lost emails Friday, Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis. blasted Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen for what he called a “pattern of abuse.” The emails belonged to a former IRS official under investigation for targeting conservative groups.
Kosiken told members of the House Ways and Means Committee he did not feel the agency needed to apologize for the loss. Ryan and the committee accused him of covering up a targeting scandal in which conservative groups were the objective.
“This is unbelievable,” Ryan said. “That’s your problem. Nobody believes you.”
“I have a long career,” Koskinen said. “That’s the first time anyone’s said I don’t believe you.”
Former IRS employee Lois Lerner is under investigation for allegedly targeting conservative groups. Republican officials ordered emails between Lerner and other government officials, including White House members, handed over to determine whether there was an organized effort to hinder conservative groups before the 2012 election.
Upon learning that many of Lerner’s emails over a two-year period reportedly disappeared, committee Republicans lambasted Koskinen for “keeping secrets.” Committee members accuse the commissioner and the IRS of knowing the emails were missing months earlier and having lost six other employee emails.
“The IRS is in charge of hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s information,” said Chairman David Camp R-Mich. “And you’re now saying your technology system was so poor that years worth of emails are forever unrecoverable? How does that put anyone at ease?”
Camp questioned how the IRS could say, “I lost it” when the agency requires the average American to hold on to receipts in order to file annual taxes asking how far that excuse would get them in an audit. He said he believed Koskinen owed an apology.
Ryan also blasted the IRS commissioner for possibly misleading Congress about the emails. “This is unbelievable,” he said. You told us in May you were going to give us the emails. And you learned in February that this crashed.”
During the hearing, Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself several times. According to emails the IRS provided to Congress, Lerner first learned about IRS staffers improperly reviewing applications for tax-exempt status by Tea Party and other conservative groups on June 29, 2011. An audit performed by the Treasury Department for tax administration revealed that she was not informed about the reviews until weeks following her computer crash on June 13.
Koskinen said that Lerner’s hard drive had been recycled so it was unavailable to the IRS and Congress. Last week, the IRS said it was made aware of the missing emails in February. The agency also said that after the June 2011 computer crash, technicians were unable to retrieve information from the hard drive.
Ryan continued to blast the IRS commissioner, questioning the agency’s competency in maintaining employee’s emails. “You are the Internal Revenue Service. You can reach into the lives of hardworking taxpayers and with a phone call and email or a letter you can turn their lives upside down,” he said. “You ask tax payers to hand us seven years of their personal tax information in case they are ever audited and you can keep track of six month’s worth of employee emails?”
By Brandi M. Fleeks