IRS faces volley of new scrutiny
June 16th, 2014
09:12 PM ET
4 months ago

IRS faces volley of new scrutiny

Washington (CNN) - A new round of scrutiny hit the IRS on Monday as senators from both parties summoned the agency’s chief to Capitol Hill, one House committee set up a new investigative hearing and another issued a subpoena for the head of the agency to appear.

This came after the IRS announced that up to two years of e-mails from former agency manager Lois Lerner were destroyed when her hard drive crashed in 2011. Lerner ran the IRS division that oversaw tax-exempt status and is a key figure in the investigation into why the agency targeted tea party and other groups. The IRS says it has worked to recover the Lerner e-mails by searching through the accounts of dozens of employees who may have corresponded with her.

But that did little to quell sharp reactions across Congress, which has been investigating the matter for over a year.

Fastest to respond was the Senate Finance Committee, whose two top leaders called IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to Capitol Hill for a late Monday meeting. He met with the two men for over an hour, but senators still left with questions and doubt.

“I’m very unsatisfied,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee. “I don’t know how they can explain away the loss of two years of e-mails. ... It’s starting to become very suspicious.”

“We’re pressing to get answers whether any relevant information is missing or whether we’ve gotten everything we’ve asked for,” said Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

The IRS has described the missing e-mails as dating from 2009 to mid-2011. At that point, the agency says its computer system had a strict limit for the e-mail capacity of each employee’s account. If a worker went above that capacity, they had to either move e-mails to their hard drive or delete them. When Lois Lerner’s hard drive crashed in 2011, the agency states, her saved e-mails were lost from her account and computer.

The IRS provided e-mails from 2011 in which Lerner asked IT support staff for help with her broken hard drive and missing e-mails. The agency says it has recovered 24,000 of those e-mails by searching the accounts of 83 other IRS employees who corresponded with Lerner.

IRS chief Koskinen said Monday that his investigators knew about the crashed computer drive in late spring.

It is not clear why the IRS waited until Friday to tell Congress.

When CNN asked, Koskinen responded with a two-fold answer, saying that 1) the IRS didn’t know when the Senate Finance Committee report was going to be finalized and 2) the IRS thought it would have at least until the end of June to go through all the missing Lerner e-mails it had found in other IRS workers’ accounts.

But those in the Senate saw the timing differently. According to two Senate aides, Hatch contacted the IRS on Friday to verify the agency had sent over all pertinent documents to the investigation. Only after that, the aides say, did the IRS notify Congress that in fact thousands of e-mails had gone missing two years ago and that the agency had been working to retrieve them.

The Senate report, which was nearly final, is now delayed indefinitely as the committee tries to determine what material is still missing.

As senators met with Koskinen in private, two House committees also investigating the IRS controversy seemed to vie for who could hold the first public questioning of the IRS chief.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, announced that Koskinen has agreed to testify about the crashed hard drive and missing e-mails Tuesday, June 24.

Within minutes of that announcement, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, announced he had issued a subpoena for Koskinen to testify at his committee Monday night, June 23.

Koskinen said he was happy to testify and was aware of and planning to attend the Ways & Means hearing.

As for the House Oversight subpoena, “I don’t know why anybody would subpoena me,” Koskinen said. “I’ve showed up at seven hearings this spring already. If you want me for a hearing, you just call. You don’t have to subpoena me.”

Whether he attends one hearing or two next week, Koskinen faces a torrent of questions.

Both Camp and Issa said they plan to ask the IRS chief if his agency broke the law by failing to preserve e-mails.

To that, Koskinen and the IRS have said that federal law requires that only “official records” be kept permanently and that each staffer must determine which communication is “official” and which is personal or otherwise not official.

But the largest question is whether the agency purposely delayed or tried to hide any key e-mails from Congress. Koskinen points to the agency’s $10 million, 250-person hunt for Lerner’s e-mails and says the IRS wants to complete this investigation as much as anyone.


Filed under: Congress • IRS
soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    @louis stamm

    > Will the common person be able to use " my hard drive crashed" excuse should they ever be audited ?

    I Doubt it... Ask your wife if she'd let you use the excuse of "It depends on the definition of the word 'is'" and you'll see how well the politician's excuses work for us lowly subjects.

    June 17, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  2. Steve

    @louis stamm:

    > Will the common person be able to use " my hard drive crashed" excuse should they ever be audited ?

    I doubt it.. Ask your wife if she'd accept the 'it depends on the definition of the word "IS"' and you'll see how well these politician's excuses work for us common folk..

    June 17, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  3. Yakobi

    " “We’re pressing to get answers whether any relevant information is missing or whether we’ve gotten everything we’ve asked for,” said Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. "
    It's nice that the democrats are so trusting of the IRS to let it determine whether its in compliance. I swear, every scandal these days has the democrats acting like Officer Barbrady on South Park: "Move along, nothing to see here" (as the town is destroyed behind him).

    "It is not clear why the IRS waited until Friday to tell Congress."
    You mean late Friday afternoon, when everyone's attention was on the Iraq crisis. Yeah, it's pretty clear why they waited.

    "the agency’s $10 million, 250-person hunt for Lerner’s e-mails"
    So each person involved was paid $40,000 to find 96 e-mails apiece, and it took 3 of these guys to search each one of the 83 e-mail accounts. How efficient, IRS! Good thing you're in charge of our tax dollars!

    They could have done better just to search the hard drive of Lerner's assistant, since she's apparently cc'ed on every one of Lerner's e-mails.

    June 17, 2014 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  4. Sergeant

    bahahaha.... get over it repukes, you are going after the irs because you want to get obama. he has nothing to do with this and it is killing you that you can't find anything to pin on him. this is funny.

    June 17, 2014 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  5. rs1201

    I have never in my entire lifetime seen as much corruption, lying, and fraud as I have under this President and this administration.

    June 17, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Yakobi

    Let's also not forget that when Bill Clinton was under investigation, he used the power of the IRS to target his political enemies–which was one of the impeachment charges.

    June 17, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  7. factfeed

    It's a sure bet the crashed hard drive was a Western Digital. I've had four WD HDs crash in past four years – one was a brand new 2 Tb HD that was only 30 days old.

    Maybe this committee can investigate Western Digital's long-standing fraudulent practice of selling defective hard drives and prosecute them rigorously.

    June 17, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  8. Joe

    The administration knows this excuse will work because it only has to buy them enough time for a new scandal to surface and knock this off the front page. Oh, look...here comes one now...

    June 17, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  9. Cartman

    Pretty much every organization has information retention plans and the first step in those is that you don't keep emails on local hard drives. Emails are stored on servers which are backed up in case of hardware failures.

    I work in IT for a Fortune 50 company and we get discovery motions all the time as part of lawsuits. If we went to the judge and said sorry, that guys hard drive crashed, we don't have those emails we would be fined.

    Hopefully, the House, the Senate and maybe more importantly, the media will not buy this load of crap about missing emails.

    I am not a conspiracy nut and I think both Dems and Repubs are pretty much incompetent, but there are just too many coincidences going on with this IRS investigation to believe that they are all just bad luck.

    June 17, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  10. The Decline

    Sly, the problem with the IRS scandal is that these conservatives groups werent necessarily denied their status, they were delayed so long that they either gave up or are still waiting after years in limbo while liberal groups have been getting the fast track. This has nothing to do with whether the groups did something right or wrong. They are not being investigated, they are being stonewalled in order to suppress their ideology and that is wrong. Having said that, I firmly believe super PACs are wrong.

    June 17, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  11. Me

    First off, non profits from BOTH Democrat and Republicans were targeted. Was not just Democrats.
    Second, if the IRS had account limits, the emails would NOT exist on the "multiple servers" that the so called "IT experts" comment on. Just because your servers keep everything doesn't mean the governments servers do. Go read the article again – so far they recovered 24,000 emails from 83 coworkers. 24,0000 emails! How many emails do you keep on the server? How many employees does the IRS have? Now add the simple fact that the IRS has some of the worse IT in government (by the way, why do you suppose they have limits and terrible IT? Budget cuts?). The real issue here is the waste of money this investigation has cost. Think of how many emails the IRS could store on their servers with an extra $10 million instead of running around recovering emails from other employees.

    June 17, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. Really

    Of course they have the e-mails. Remember ... These are just the politcal talking points.

    June 17, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  13. Lynda/Minnesota

    "So your email may be on a hard drive, a server, and a couple of back of servers. BUT is never GONE if your local hard drive fails."

    And surely you can't be simpleton enough not to understand I simply don't care about IRSghazigate?

    June 17, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    "At that point, the agency says its computer system had a strict limit for the e-mail capacity of each employee’s account. If a worker went above that capacity, they had to either move e-mails to their hard drive or delete them". I work for a government agency and this is our policy as well. After 500mb, you have to archive to your desktop. The backup isn't allowed on the server.

    June 17, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  15. Bill

    Sergeant – really? Are you that freaking up OBO's butt that you can't see these lies and deceptions? This is absolutely scary on your behalf. If this was Bush, YOU'D be screaming IMPEACH!!!

    June 17, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  16. Steve B

    Chicago politics on a national stage. Kind of funny to watch.

    June 17, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  17. Bill

    Me – awe, you are just the bearer of stupid information. I have worked in IT my whole life and I can tell you the data CAN be recovered. If not by the IRS "techs", then the NSA can surely get them. Of course there will be no way of getting that as long as OBO has his puppets on strings.... what goes around comes around kiddo. Just remember that.....

    June 17, 2014 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. CrashMan

    Don't they run backups on their email server?

    June 17, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  19. OldSchool

    This reeks of incompetent IT staff and procedures. Storing the emails of a high ranking government employee locally on her personal machine is amateurish, and I highly doubt that she is technically sophisticated enough to know how they actually should have been handled and stored. I sure hope other government agencies don't operate like this, for the sake of transparency and official record. As many others have said, this would never fly at even a medium sized corporation.

    All of that being said, this is largely an exaggerated partisan witch hunt. Groups on both sides of the political spectrum were targeted and, frankly, rightfully so. Essentially these people were attempting to abuse non-profit status, which should not be defended no matter where you stand politically....

    June 17, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  20. Malory Archer

    The Decline
    Sly, the problem with the IRS scandal is that these conservatives groups werent necessarily denied their status, they were delayed so long that they either gave up or are still waiting after years in limbo while liberal groups have been getting the fast track.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Yeah, except no. They were all treated the same. There are Dem groups who are still waiting as well, AND there are Dem groups who were denied tax exempt status. Why doesn't anyone on the right address THAT? Oh, that's right – it doesn't fit in with their narrative, and therefore their victimhood.

    June 17, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. govern

    I work for a different government agency, but these really are our rules. If you reach your email capacity, you are to store your archive on your hard drive, you may not use the server space. This happens all the time.

    June 17, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  22. Elliott

    Haven't you people ever heard of a BACKUP!!!!! Jesus! Private companies have to backup their email and their files! This is why so many people think our Government is a joke. Well, it is a joke!

    June 17, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  23. willhaas

    I cannot believe that the IRS IT system was so incopetent so as to not provide appropriate backups. This smells of lies and coverup. All IRS computing devices and materials need to be immediately impounded and all personel involved held as material whitneses. Many a deleted file can be recovered even on a crashed harddrive.

    June 17, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  24. BADGUY

    What nonsense! The IRS was just DOING ITS JOB..when it gave extra scrutiny to Right Wing (and Left Wing) groups were OBVIOUSLY tying to "pull the wool over their eyes" on eligibility for a tax free status. The Republicans would LOVE to shut down the IRS so their Rich Patrons could get out of paying ANY taxes! Obama should REINFORCE the IRS and task them to investigate, IN DETAIL, ALL the top 1%. I would wager that if he did THAT, we'd have 99% of the top 1% behind bars (within 6 months) for tax fraud, larceny, scamming, theft, etc, etc.

    June 17, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  25. duane - st.pete FL

    they "lost the emails"???????? liberals and there lies and cover ups......un-american

    June 17, 2014 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
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