IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Friday that he doesn’t believe the IRS owes Congress an apology for losing several years’ worth of emails Republicans are seeking as part of their investigation into the IRS targeting scandal, or for the delay in telling Congress about the lost emails.
Koskinen testified at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday and faced frustrated Republicans who were seeking clarification about the timeline of when the IRS knew about the lost emails, and why the IRS didn’t immediately tell Congress.
Koskinen said in an opening statement that information technology experts tried for weeks to recover key emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner. After his opening statement, committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said that what he didn’t hear is an apology for losing the emails or for failing to alert Congress more quickly.
“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen replied. “Not a single email has been lost since the start of this investigation. Every email has been preserved that we have.”
Camp accused Koskinen of not telling Congress about the lost emails for a few months, and said the IRS was keeping it a secret. Koskinen rejected that assertion and said the IRS first knew there was a problem in February, and wanted to spend time figuring out what the problem was before telling Congress.
“It was my decision that we complete the investigation so we could fully advise you with what the situation was,” he said. “We were not keeping it a secret. My position has been that when we provide information, we should provide it completely.”
Camp rejected that as an excuse, and said he supports the appointment of a special counsel to examine the lost emails and the IRS reaction to that incident. Things got testy again when Camp asked if Koskinen would support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the lost emails.
Koskinen tried a few times to deliver a longer answer, which prompted Camp to interrupt and ask for a yes or no answer, amid grumbling from committee Democrats.
“I think the appointment of a special prosecutor after the six investigations ongoing and the IG investigation into this matter ongoing, would be a monumental waste of taxpayer funds,” Koskinen finally said.
“So is that a yes or a no?” Camp asked.
“That’s a no.”
Camp also asked Koskinen about reports that Lerner’s hard drive was destroyed. Koskinen confirmed that it was “recycled and destroyed.”
Camp asked if the hard drive was “melted down,” and Koskinen said he wasn’t sure about the fate of the hard drive. That prompted Camp to ask if the IRS has a system for tracking government property, and if Lerner’s hard drive has a serial number.
“I want that hard drive, and I want the hard drive of every computer that crashed during that time frame,” Camp said.
“If they have serial numbers, you’re welcome to them,” Koskinen said.
Koskinen defended the IRS’s overall transparency in the case, and said the IRS has sent thousands of Lerner’s emails and thousands of documents to Congress as part of the investigation.
But Camp and other Republicans said the IRS has proven itself to be untrustworthy. They noted that the IRS first said the targeting scandal was directed by a few rogue officials in Cincinnati, and it was later shown that it was directed by Lerner from Washington.
“The IRS has lied to Congress and the American people,” Camp said. “After all the obstruction, I fear this Congress and the American people cannot take the IRS at its word.”
“I don’t believe it,” added House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “That’s your problem. Nobody believes you.”
Camp and Ryan also noted that the IRS is delivering excuses that the IRS itself would reject if they were offered by a taxpayer dealing with the IRS. “How far would the excuse of ‘I lost it’ get with the IRS for an average American trying to file their yearly taxes who may have lost a few receipts?” Camp asked.
The hearing was punctuated by several interruptions from committee Democrats who argued that Republicans were being too harsh to Koskinen, including by interrupting his answers. A few Democrats used their time to let Koskinen say whatever he wants to get his point of view across at the hearing.