Republicans unloaded on IRS Commissioner John Koskinen today during a hearing examining how some of former senior IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails may be permanently lost after the revelation that her hard drive crashed and was ultimately recycled in 2011.
“I'm advised the actual hard drive, after it was determined that it was dysfunctional and that, with experts, no emails could be retrieved, was recycled then destroyed in the normal process,” Koskinen testified, drawing groans from Republicans on the committee. “I have no idea what the recycler does with it. This was three years ago.”
A week ago, the IRS told Congress that two years of Lerner’s emails were lost when her computer's hard drive crashed in 2011.
After Koskinen concluded his prepared testimony, Rep. Dave Camp, slammed the IRS for failing to notify congressional investigators as soon as the agency realized the emails were lost.
“What I didn't hear in that was an apology to this committee,” Camp, R-Michigan, said.
“I don't think an apology is owed,” Koskinen shot back. “Not a single email has been lost since the start of this investigation. Every email has been preserved that we have.”
Rep. Paul Ryan questioned the trustworthiness of Koskinen’s testimony, which was delivered under oath.
“This is unbelievable. The apology that ought to be given is to the American taxpayer, not to a government agency that is abusing its power,” Ryan, R-Wisconsin, fumed. “I am sitting here listening to this testimony. I just, I don't believe it. That's your problem. Nobody believes you."
Ryan pointed to several instances where the IRS’s evolving accounts of the targeting scandal have misled congressional investigators, with the agency claiming initially that no targeting of conservative organizations occurred, but later blaming the practice on a few rouge agents, and even contending that progressives were targeted as well.
“All of those things have been proven untrue,” Ryan said. “This is being misleading again. This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial.”
“I have a long career,” Koskinen said. “That's the first time anybody has said they do not believe me.”
Lerner, the former senior IRS official at the center of the scandal, has refused to answer questions from lawmakers, instead invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
“Today, you're telling us, out of thousands of IRS computers the one that lost the emails was the person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said. “This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in history.”
“To say this is the most corrupt IRS in history ignores a lot of history and seems to me, again, is a classic overreaction to a serious problem, which we are dealing with seriously,” Koskinen retorted. “My experience has been we do better to have a rational discussion when you know all the facts.”
The anger was highly partisan, as several Democrats defended Koskinen and apologized to the commissioner for the tenor of Republicans during the hearing.
“I want to apologize to you for the way you're being treated this morning,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said. “I thought this was a hearing and not a trial.”
Friday’s hearing at the Ways and Means Committee was Part I of Koskinen’s testimony on the issue. He’ll return to the Capitol next Monday to testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.