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. cfd

    This organization is almost as much of a joke as is the current administration

    June 17, 2014 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  2. John Doe

    I work in the private sector and have lost years of e-mails for this very reason. Yes, it is suspicious but highly plausible. The typical government agency is light years behind us in technology. This proves that we have a Congress, in this case the Republicans, who want to finance an Imperial strategy (here there and everywhere) at the cost of the middle classe. Uh oh, no money to invade Elbonia? Blame those overpaid government workers and redirect that money, which would otherwise have a direct impact of various local economies, to "friendly" terrorists abroad. Just proves the government is broken and we need our own revolution here at home to deal with places like Chiraq, Can't elect those Democrats as they'd just throw endless sums of money at pointless social welfare programs and reward "illegal" immigrants. I'd uttered the words "What is to be Done?"; however, history is simply repeating itself if I were to borrow that expression from a 19th century Russian radical.

    June 17, 2014 05:37 am at 5:37 am |
  3. Flatsguide

    Does the IRS and this government actually believe the American public will believe this?

    June 17, 2014 05:52 am at 5:52 am |
  4. Hillary Izexi

    If the IRS and the Obama Administration are innocent of wrongdoing, why are they putting so much effort into obstructing the investigation?

    Why is the State Department not being audited for losing over $1 billion?

    June 17, 2014 05:52 am at 5:52 am |
  5. hkirwin

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and taste like a duck everyone but a Dim calls it a duck.

    June 17, 2014 06:09 am at 6:09 am |
  6. Brian

    The 1000's of emails that have disappeared somehow, This is all a cover-up. I am in IT Management and I can tell you with 100% certainty that with redundancies in place especially for the IRS and White House systems that this is merely impossible.

    Bring me in to investigate and I will tell you who/what/when/where the emails were deleted from the servers and the backups, which is an entirely separate system. This information was lost/destroyed deliberately. This is a criminal act on some persons part.

    June 17, 2014 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  7. NODAT1

    What a bunch of BS the IRS like many gov agency's us Microsoft office suite.... ALL E-mails are processed and stored on a central E-mail server and backed up daily at the Data center with an archive backup every 30 days. To claim that her Hard drive crashed is preventing the retrieval of old E-mail is just for the uneducated masses who voted for the current administration so they can jump on the bandwagon and cry no proof

    June 17, 2014 06:26 am at 6:26 am |
  8. Colo001

    Is anyone really surprised about this revelation? This is what happens when you don't have to worry about consequences...

    June 17, 2014 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  9. Marie MD

    Shaking in my boots.
    Does the car thief and alleged arsonist have anything better to do with his time?

    June 17, 2014 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  10. 1968billsfan

    Gee, most people have had a computer crash, so we should all feel sorry for these poor guys. How many cookie recipes did Lerner lose? I guess they never back these things up, like normal people do.

    June 17, 2014 06:32 am at 6:32 am |
  11. J

    IRS = Intimidate Republicans Service

    June 17, 2014 06:36 am at 6:36 am |
  12. croaton

    My teacher at school didn't buy into the "dog ate my homework" excuse either.

    June 17, 2014 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  13. Bob

    Retention is supposed to be server side. Claiming that an end user's PC crashing resulted in the loss of irretrievable e-mails is either a complete lie or shows that the IRS's IT department is incompetent.

    June 17, 2014 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  14. John

    The lies from the administration are amazing.

    Not once has anyone admitted or taken responsibility for any problems.

    We thought GWB was embarrassing, but little did we know Obama would stoop to new lows not seen since the Nixon years.

    Scandal after scandal- this is a joke. No leadership shown and I have no faith in anything they say.

    June 17, 2014 06:47 am at 6:47 am |
  15. Bill

    Another leadership example of Obama's transparent administration. Funny how he is jumping all over this. Hmmmm

    June 17, 2014 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  16. cmml

    There are no coincidences in Washington.

    June 17, 2014 06:54 am at 6:54 am |
  17. humtake

    Most major organizations have a set limit on email. You have to use data files to store emails. Unfortunately, where the IRS has failed to realize is that this isn't an excuse because data files should NEVER go on hard drives but should be saved on network drives. If someone needs them and they aren't in the office, then they use VPN.

    This is pretty much a standard and any basic IT shop sets it up this way. Of course, we are talking about the government concerning a major investigation, so we all know what really happened.

    June 17, 2014 06:59 am at 6:59 am |
  18. LJ

    So, let me get this straight. Government said "We need these materials as evidence" and give them over a year to produce the evidence... when they admit they were "accidentally deleted" – in 2011 – they state they are recovering them by accessing other IRS email archives. Which are ALSO stored on workstations and laptops. I'm SURE if there were any incriminating emails, they would also be recovered. But! Since they already said there were no incriminating emails, we won't be recovering any. Especially from, oh... maybe someone who directed the IRS to behave this way. The whole thing they were looking for. Oops, destroyed evidence – but it's OK! There was nothing incriminating, remember? We already said so. So no foul, right?

    So, the IRS official email retention policy was "you guys, keep the important stuff, k? Email is cluttering up our server and we have never heard of server archives, nor do we imagine emails might ever be important in the future... but if they are, I'm sure the laptop and workstation hard drives will still have stuff stored. Somewhere."

    What is this, amateur hour?

    June 17, 2014 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  19. Scott

    If the NSA can retrieve billions of emails through accounts that are out there on SERVERS (not hard drives) of providers (in this case, the IRSs' servers), how can they not retrieve criminal activity of IRS officials illegal acts off the IRS SERVERS?!?

    June 17, 2014 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  20. Namewitheld

    Hard drives can be reconstructed.

    June 17, 2014 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  21. WOW

    Congress, you want to get their attention...put somebody in jail...That'll do it!!!!!!!!

    June 17, 2014 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  22. Gordo

    Hard Drive crashes do not destroy emails. Exchange (or similar server crashes do if not backed up as part of a Disaster recovery Plan). If it was just her PC, all the destination email accounts should be fine according to their logic. Do you mean that the govt doesnt use its massive NSA data storage facilities to back up their electronic files? Its funny how they mandate that businesses do a high cost. How many more lies do we need before it at least prompts Obama supporters to question the integrity on this and many more issues?

    June 17, 2014 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  23. Jason Ransone

    Let's get this straight..... An agency which specializes in tracking down information from Americans for a period of 7 YEARS in order to collect tax revenue from us.....the policy at the IRS is to delete emails from senior officers after two years and purge them from their hard drive????? Really? LIke we actually are expected to believe that????

    June 17, 2014 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  24. Gordo

    google, yahoo, and msn do a better job retaining emails......maybe it was the same IT folk who designed the Obamacare website

    June 17, 2014 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  25. uncdig

    Since when are emails kept on the computer's hard drive. They are usually store on a cloud or other central email server. Only the government could try and pull a stunt like this. Very suspicious

    June 17, 2014 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
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