IRS faces volley of new scrutiny
June 16th, 2014
09:12 PM ET
6 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.

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. dumfounded

    Seriously? All that has to be done is run a search of people she works with and connect the dots and anyone can easily reconstruct her emails to 99.98%. By connecting cc and searching key associates emails – public records – this is easily accomplished.

    June 17, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  2. Malory Archer

    Chris

    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.

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

    Time to read a little more thoroughly there chris.... I said "reign or error" not "reign of terror". Do try to keep up.

    June 17, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  3. Bill from GA

    " the largest question is whether the agency purposely delayed or tried to hide any key e-mails from Congress. "

    It is now totally irrelevant whether or not political action groups got improper tax exempt status.

    Maybe Congress should focus on clarifying the law so that all involved know the rules, and let the IRS enforce the rules. They only way we can all be expected to play by the same rules is if the rules are explicit.

    Then let the IRS do its job. None of us like the IRS, but none of us should want others to get by with something when we can not. Too often special rules are made for the powerful, or subtle changes made to benefit those with political influence.

    The actions of Issa and his gang are clearly done to intimidate the IRS.

    June 17, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  4. calvin

    Hmmm... the emails were only kept on her hard drive ? Shouldn't they be kept on the main server if federal agencies are required to keep records ? And of course, her hard drive "crashed" somehow, so now the emails are "lost" forever (aka, deleted by "someone").

    June 17, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  5. Chris

    kurt – So it is ok if it was left leaning groups that got punished? You may think the point of this story is the IRS targeting right leaning groups...my concern is the IRS targeting ANY groups. The abuse of federal power is problematic, no matter who the target of that power of victim of that abuse is.

    June 17, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  6. B

    Kurt,

    do the IT world a favor and find a new profession. Your clueless how email works. I'm an exchange administrator and can tell you without a doubt its impossible for a single email to be lost. The IRS most definitely backs up their dat for over 10 year period. Exchange databases are redundant using DAG. Al the data is backed up nightly and in the IRS most like several time a day. Pretending that the end users are required to retain their own data is Ludacris. Can you imagine the CEO of a company losing all his email and not being able to get it back. its so laughable that I think KURT is really mr. Obama.

    June 17, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  7. Bob

    Come on it is easy for a computer to eat emails: All you have to do is press delete.

    June 17, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  8. keven

    Chris, CNN "burying this" ???
    It's linked on the top "Editors Choice" for stories and is listed in top stories.
    Just because you would write it different because your a "trained records custodian" doesn't mean you have to accuse others of some kind of conspiracy
    Unless of course, your one of those that live for that stuff

    June 17, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  9. Patrick

    This is the IRS. The data files are not on a single hard drive in the server. The server has what is called RAID usually level 5 or 6 or higher on the hard drives. It is not bug spray. The RAID setup is so that if a hard drive fails no data is lost. That is addition to the backups. All the excuses of a hard drive failed and the data was lost doesn't cut it. Anyone who works in IT can tell you that is complete BS on the government. I did not read about a big tsunami wave or meteor wiping out the IRS servers and backups. It would take that level of destruction to lose all the data. Or someone deleting specific data.

    June 17, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  10. ATLPeach

    In this day and time nothing just 'disappears' from the internet. Get a good internet forensics team on it, and I guarantee you'll find some - if not all - of the emails in question!

    June 17, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  11. forest gump

    Well Chris, he did in fact invade another country to enrich certain people, and with war comes death, so I think his administration is the worst, hands down, this nation has ever seen, thirty year military men retiring with" no comment" regarding the info George sold Congress, to get his war Cheney was chomping at the bits for, both enriched themselves at the cost of young patriotic men and women. Which is also why jeb can't be serious about a run for president, those things we don't forget.

    June 17, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  12. Anonymous

    non of them should be getting tax exempt status, they are not Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations. Organizations described in section 501(c)(3), other than testing for public safety organizations, are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions in accordance with Code section 170. political campaigns companies are not charitable organizations

    June 17, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  13. Patrick

    We are required to keep all work related transaction for 10 years at the state level. One would think that the federal level would be the same or higher. If the IRS is deleting emails related to work related function in a few months then there is a huge problem at the IRS.

    I can go back 10 years and still read email even unopened on my web based email. Not sure about your email but I see otherwise. The IRS system would be a protected system. Very little external access. No way they delete things as fast as few months.

    Besides the IRS wants us to keep out tax records for 10 years. One would think the IRS is keeping its own records for as long. After all they go back 10 years when they audit you.

    June 17, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  14. Abrondon

    Losing emails because her hard-drive crashed seems very suspicious. Virtually every organization has electronic backups that run every night, I can't imagine that the IRS, which requires all citizens to keep, what, at least seven years worth of detailed records, would leave it's own records to the frailties of desktop computers.

    June 17, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  15. truth hurts but reality bites

    So now the Obama administration has completely run out of tactics to stonewall, delay and obstruct. They have finally come to the end of the line with the dog/computer ate the emails lie. And just when you thought the constsant display of corruption and incompetence couldn't get any worse, they show they can still dig to new lows.

    And we wonder why the last 5.5 years has been a total disaster... What is even more scary is that there are still people out there that believe and support this clown show in the White House.

    June 17, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. Tommy605

    It's amazing how little people know about how backup and storage works in today's world.

    Email is stored on the server. Live email. When your mailbox reached capacity, you archive. That archive is local and those emails no longer on the mail server. Here's the fun part. Depending on where you work, you either can or can't save locally. I work in the public sector. I cannot save locally. My archive is on my shared drive. But if you can save locally, there is still a possibility that the email is on backup tapes, depending on their requirements.
    Daily backups are kept for one week. Weekly backups are kept for one month. Monthly backups are kept for one year. What is on the server at the end of the year, is kept on file for legal purposes for seven years.

    It's possible, on the backup tapes of the email server, that those emails still exist. Depends on how their backup retention policy is maintained and how effectively it is enforced.

    Will it provide anything? Probably not much. I think it's documented that both parties were targeted. It's basically a witch hunt and a phishing exercise. They're not hoping to find anything on this case. They're hoping to find additional discrepancies.

    But, it is possible that the only copies of the email were in archive form on her hard drive. It's all around the policies of retention and back up at the time. Before going through the effort of finding the lost email, check those out to see if it's even likely.

    June 17, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  17. Bill

    IRS facing 'more scrutiny' is like saying they need their hand slapped for dumping 2 years of information on an official being investigated for utilizing government resources for a serious systematic freedom of speech tampering.

    June 17, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. David Ross

    Sadly, this is the defining moment in the Presidents presidency. It will become a major part of his legacy. No one, not a single soul believes that these emails were lost....this is exactly like Nixon and we all saw where that went.

    I am so very sad to watch where the Presidency has been driven to.....and all by choice.

    There are always those historic moments, milestones, and history will remember this one as defining the legacy of a Presidency. Sad

    June 17, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  19. Hector Slagg

    Well Folks,
    Isn't this what you voted for? Don't like it?

    June 17, 2014 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  20. Jim

    This makes Watergate look like a parking ticket. It took the Obama administration over a year to cleanse all emails from the system before they could declare they have been "lost". Someone should be in prison, and it's probably the President.

    June 17, 2014 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  21. bfpiercelk

    "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."

    Which is a giant load of crap since emails aren't stored on PC hard drives.

    June 17, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  22. Anonymous

    As an IT networking person with 10 years experience, I can tell you it is physically impossible to loose those emails. Those servers are not only redundantly backed-up at each location, there are multiply server locations scattered across the USA to prevent loss in the event of a disaster. This is the most unbelievable lie anyone god ever tell.

    June 17, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  23. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I can't believe the people that claim this site is covering for this administration. This site puts out every and any story that paints President Obama in a bad light. Fox never did that to Bush nor any other republican. Also this site picks and chooses which comments to print and the majority of those printed are anti-Obama. So the reader will think everyone feels the same way. How many other sites have you seen a poll asking, "Do you want to see Obama fail?" I've never in all of my years heard of a poll like that about a sitting POTUS. But I realize most have been told the media is liberal. But what I'd like to know is where they are, so I can read some unbiased GOP spin news?

    June 17, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  24. Thomas

    What about those who received the emails , did there computers also crash ?

    Lois Lerner is a registered republican , this was an inside job .

    As far a i'm concerned , non profits such as Cow's For A New America Century or Femdom Works shouldn't have tax exempt status .

    June 17, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  25. The REAL Truth...

    @LogicalSC – " The lack on knowledge displayed by the goober brigade..."
    How could you possibly KNOW that?
    -----------------------
    Because the number of comments (like yours) from folks that have no clue as to how Outlook email systems are archived, nor the policies/procedures in use at the IRS is rampant, judgemental and typically uninformed. The IRS only allows user to store 500Mb on the server.. so users store "extra" email/attachments on local drives in .pst archives. If the hard drive crashes, it's logical that those archives would be gone.. If those emails are stored locally they are NOT on the server and can't be backed up..
    Plus, hard drives in the business environment have limited shelf life and crash all the time.
    While the conspiracy brigade is out in force on this issue, it's perfectly legitimate and possible.

    June 17, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
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