IRS faces volley of new scrutiny
June 16th, 2014
09:12 PM ET
8 years 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.

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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. Chris

    I am curious why CNN is burying this. This story is about more than the disappearance of emails central to a congressional investigation, it is about a significant violation of federal law. Federal law requires all federal agencies to keep records of the business in which they engage. Essentially maintaining a historical record specifically for events such as this one. If emails were left on a single computer, and not properly maintained as records, that is a violation of federal law.

    As a trained records custodian in the DoD, I can tell you just how seriously the military takes records management. Every employee is provided annual trianing on it, and certain designated individuals are provided additional trianing and become responsible for management functions in their respective offices. Network drives are created and maintained solely for the storage of official records.

    June 17, 2014 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  2. forest gump

    Jb,1100 conservative groups, just over 100 progressive groups, get it now, use all facts, not fox facts that leaves you making comments like yours that shows those of us who know, think you foolish. Check it out. Truth is often inconvenient, but the truth all the same.

    June 17, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  3. Gunderson

    Silence DoGood,
    Please! Don't try to figure this out! You will strain your brain! Just check with your Nanny. And for God's sake get back in your jammies. A brain that small shouldn't be out by it's self !!

    June 17, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  4. Jerome

    18 minutes of a blacked out conversation with the IRS got Nixon impeached. 2 years of "missing" e-mails should lead to an Obama impeachment.

    June 17, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  5. Biden

    Even if they screwed up and lost the emails, Lerner taking the fifth must make you suspect that there are things the IRS is trying to hide.

    June 17, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  6. Malory Archer

    I am curious why CNN is burying this.


    If they're "burying" it, how is it that it's the third story on the ticker (at 10:50 a.m.) and how are you posting on this message thread?

    June 17, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  7. laxattack33

    I bet if you track down George W. Bush's whereabouts during this period, you'll find out he snuck into IRS headquarters and deleted all these files.

    June 17, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  8. Christian_Grey

    To TD it was not equal measure...Thats the problem

    June 17, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  9. Malory Archer

    I believe that we're actually going to have to wait until Obama leaves the WH to actually find out the depths of his administration's failures and illegal deeds.
    Can you arrest a former President?


    Yeah, but there are a whole gaggle of individuals from the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue all the way down the chain of command in line ahead of him. In fact, there are so many individuals to be tried from THAT eight-year reign of error that we probably won't even be able to get to President Obama in this lifetime!

    June 17, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  10. John

    I'm just waiting for the "IRS" headline to be followed by the sub-heading: "IRS To Give Back All Collected Taxes, Infrastructure To Collapse"

    June 17, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  11. Zondar

    Just so happens that they only started retaining backups for more than 6 months AFTER the time period the investigators are looking into.

    How convenient.

    June 17, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  12. forest gump

    Nice, captain baby talk calls someone stupid, oh the irony!

    June 17, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  13. MRC

    Now just wait a minute...So they are saying that 2 years ago the computer crashed and emails were lost. Please explain how only one person the person who is most likely to prove that Obama is involved in the scandal is the only one that seems effected by the crash? How is it possible that the IRS can sift through the other workers email and recover some of the emails but hers was completely wiped out? Yeah I smell a cover-up.....!

    June 17, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  14. kurt

    Lot of misunderstanding about the IT side in this thread.

    Okay people... here's a very dumbed down version of how e-mail generally works.

    When you set up an e-mail server, there is a setting for how long opened e-mails are saved on the server. Due to the larg amount of space used for e-mail in an organization, this time is generally kept fairly short. After this time period is completed, the server will delete the opened e-mails.

    This doesn't mean the e-mail is gone though. When you connect to the server, your PC copies the e-mails to your hard drive. Even when you delete the e-mails, traces often remain so they can be recovered for a long time afterward. They cannot be recovered on the server because the server generally re-uses the space very quickly and overwrites it with something else... which makes recovering the files virtually impossible.

    Some organizations archive e-mail data to a for a period of time as well... but even those generally don't last forever. Most places have 3-months in the regular server and perhaps 2 years in the archived folders.

    Again... normally you can still get them off the harddrives of anyone who sent or recieved the e-mail even if deleted. But that goes away if the harddrive crashes.

    IRS e-mails (due to the private nature of the content being discussed) would probably get destroyed sooner rather then later. I work for a financial company in their IT department, and we destroy ALL data as soon as the government allows us to. We don't want the risk of giving up 35 years worth of social security numbers and financial information should our data be compromised. We delete e-mails after 3 months with no archiving.... because those arent' official records and sometimes do contain private information for our customers.

    The technical explanation of losing 2010-2011 e-mails do to a PC crash she had in 2011 is completely valid. Is it true? I have my doubts. But there's nothing unreasonable in the excuse they are using. A hard drive crash would in fact likely cause those e-mails to be lost.

    June 17, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  15. Ol' Yeller

    Gosh... I figured the righties would have invented a new scandal by now, but I see this one is still something for them to whine and cry about since their numerous other invented scandals aren't doing so well, they had to dust this one off until they could come up with something new.
    I got news for you... if bush, cheney, rummy, and those criminals are still walking free after admitting several times on camera to having broken international treaties, including the Geneva Convention... then I seriously doubt you are going to get to Obama because some bush appointee allegedly 'targetted' some right wing group trying to avoid paying their taxes (as republicants notoriously do) by auditting their files for claiming a tax exempt status that the IRS doesn't even enforce... and did NOT do so to ANY of these whining groups... they ALL got their tax exemptions.
    Geesh, get a life you friggin' crybabies.... YOU LOST THE ELECTION... let it go.
    At least we didn't steal it from you, then you'd have a right to be mad.

    June 17, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  16. Incredulous45

    Why does another site claim that congress was actually notified that there was a problem 3 months ago?

    June 17, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  17. sandy

    I've lost count of all the obama disasters. What a sorry excuse for POTUS he's become.

    June 17, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  18. jhag39

    One of the articles of impeachment cited against Ricard Nixon was his use of the IRS to harass his "enemies". The difference between Nixon and Obama is that media, include CNN and their idiot Candy Crowley, love Obama and will not report anythng puts him in a bad light

    June 17, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  19. kurt


    To TD it was not equal measure...Thats the problem"

    Very true. The only groups to actually be denied tax-exempt status were liberal leaning. It's clear that while they put additional scrutiny on both left and right leaning groups, only the left leaning ones actually got punishment.

    The list of keywords that got additional scrutiny were as follows: "Tea Party", "Patriots", "9/12 Project", "progressive," "occupy," "Israel," "open source software," "medical marijuana" and "occupied territory advocacy".

    More liberal keywords then conservative ones on that list. Very clear they were unfair to the left.

    June 17, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  20. The Truth

    " 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. "

    Any financial institution in the US would be facing charges if this happened. Emails must be retained for 7 years or more. This is a complete bogus excuse.

    June 17, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  21. DaveinIL

    Give me a break. Anyone who uses email knows that messages are stored on a network server whether or not copies are kept on a local PC. If the IRS is trying to say that they didn't have the ability to restore the local cache from the server or backup tapes, they truly are totally incompetent and shouldn't be trusted to collect taxes and store that data.

    June 17, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  22. CryBabies

    Malory Archer...Even a blind sqirrel finds a nut once in a while.

    June 17, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  23. Chris

    Malory, I will concede "buried" was a bit of an overstatement. My opinion was not based solely on the content of the website, it also includes the coverage on the network. CNN is on a good portion of the day in my office , broken up with periods of Fox News and MSNBC, and there has been little to no coverage of the IRS story on the network. I believe the decision makers at CNN have decided the IRS story is dead, they want it to be dead. They are reluctantly reporting the story to preserve a shred of credibility.

    And speaking of overstatements..."reign of terror"? Really? You may not have liked the policies of the Bush years, but let's tone down the hyperbole. As much as I may not like how Obama has run his administration, I would not describe it as a reign of terror.

    June 17, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  24. Anonymous

    Excellent. Have to keep this nonissue alive and now we can have a criminal investigation over e-mails that may or may not exist. The party of voter suppression and getting in women's vaginas loves to play the victim except that not a single "tea party" group was denied tax exempt status even though they completely failed to comply with the requirement that they be a predominantly social and not political organization. We can also focus on what President Obama did while the CIA station in Benghazi was under attack, i.e. if he went to the bathroom at any time he obviously hates America. BTW, if we want to focus on taxes, how about investigating the massive money laundering that went on just prior to the Obama administration coming into office?

    June 17, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  25. Malory Archer

    One of the articles of impeachment cited against Ricard Nixon was his use of the IRS to harass his "enemies". The difference between Nixon and Obama is that media, include CNN and their idiot Candy Crowley, love Obama and will not report anythng puts him in a bad light


    Yeah, except President Obama's "friends" were "harassed" too, and in fact, only liberal/progressive groups were denied tax exempt status. Why doesn't the right every talk about THAT, or is it okay with the reds if those groups are "harassed" and deny status?

    June 17, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
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