The House Oversight Committee is continuing its investigation into the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal with panel hearings held both Monday night and Tuesday. Although President Obama has claimed that there is not even a “smidgeon” of corruption in the IRS, it has become abundantly apparent that certain tax-exempt political groups, primarily conservative in nature, were targeted by the IRS with the purpose of suppressing conservative political influence. This political weaponization of what should be an apolitical government entity may have served to influence the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, which resulted in the re-election of Democrat Barack Obama. Further, as more evidence of malfeasance and subsequent cover-up are discovered, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) who is heading up the investigation appears to be losing his patience with the consistent deception by the IRS, or in less politically correct terms, the apparent “lies.”
It has recently come to light that the IRS managed to have an enormous coincidence of convenience in that it lost significant emails written between the years of 2009 and 2011 that were likely vital to the IRS scandal investigation. A subpoena had been issued for all emails related to the targeting of tax-exempt political groups. Just 10 days after that subpoena, the computer hard drives of Lois Lerner, former Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Unit and several of her colleagues mysteriously “crashed.” This dubious technological coincidence resulted in the loss of all of the emails sent by Lois Lerner and her group to the White House and outside entities.
The IRS has provided some 67,000 other emails to investigators but it appears that the ones that may have connected the political weaponization of the IRS to those higher in the chain of command are “lost” forever. It is very interesting to note that although the IRS had subscribed to an email backup service for five years before the simultaneous hard drive crash, that subscription was apparently cancelled when Congress starting investigating the agency.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, previously promised transparency to the House Oversight Committee agreeing to provide all relevant emails related to the IRS scandal. He has been criticized for taking more than three months to disclose that many of the critical emails were “lost.”
In last night’s hearing, while under oath, Koskinen told Chairman Issa it was the, “aged equipment” at the IRS that was to blame for the crashing of vital hard drives. He further stated that in just 2014, “2,000 IRS employees out of about 90,000 have suffered hard-drive crashes.” When pressed by Issa about his promise to provide all relevant emails, Koskinen retorted, “I did not say I would provide you emails that disappeared.” He further provoked Issa by saying, “If you have a magical way for me to do that, I’d be happy to know about it.” At that point, Chairman Issa let it be known that he had not only lost his patience with the apparent deception by the IRS, he directly told Koskinen, “…I’ve lost my patience with you.”
During this morning’s House Oversight Committee hearing Chairman Issa questioned White House Attorney Jennifer O’Connor who had to be subpoenaed in order to get her to testify. Her testimony was important because she had been brought onboard in 2013 to assist the IRS in producing the documents requested by congress. O’Connor claimed that she had left the IRS before it was discovered that the emails were “lost”. This provoked Issa again because it appeared that either O’Connor was lying, since the hard drives crashed 10 days after the subpoena, which was during the period of time that included her assistance at the IRS, or she had not actually been doing her job which was to produce all emails relevant to the investigation. At a certain point, Issa went so far as to declare O’Connor a “hostile witness” a statement he later amended to that of a “non-cooperative” witness.
There was further incriminating testimony in today’s hearing produced by U.S. Archivist David Ferriero who stated that federal agencies must, by law, report any loss of data to the National Archives. According to Ferriero, no such data about the “lost” emails was reported by the IRS in relation to the targeting scandal.
The House Oversight Committee led by Chairman Issa is intent on discovering all truths related to the IRS scandal and it is likely that the scandal will continue to develop in scope. It may indeed be proven that the targeting of primarily conservative groups for political purposes is connected to a higher chain of command. This, despite the technological convenience of simultaneous hard drive failures – failures that served to bury potentially critical evidence. Americans should not only be concerned about the seeming deception and potential cover up by the IRS, but also take into serious consideration the ramification of the political weaponization of a government agency that is supposed to be apolitical.
Opinion by Alana Marie Burke