IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Wednesday downplayed the idea that Lois Lerner's hard drive may have been purposefully scratched in order to hide information from congressional investigators, and said he's not concerned that this may have happened.
Koskinen was in front of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, just a day after the House Ways & Means Committee said it learned that Lerner's hard drive was "scratched," and that her emails may have been recoverable. Ways & Means said it was not clear whether the scratch happened on purpose.
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testifies before the House Oversight Committee as lawmakers continue their probe of whether tea party groups were improperly targeted for increased scrutiny by the IRS. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) pressed the issue Wednesday by implying that Lerner's hard drive may have been purposefully scratched in order to help ensure House investigators could not find her emails.
"Let me tell you why it concerns me," Meadows said as he held up a laptop computer. "This is an HP laptop. To get to the hard drive, it is no easy task. You've got multiple screws that have to be taken to get to it. Then once you get to that, you actually have a hard drive inside that has seven more screws that have to be taken off to get to the hard drive in order for it to be scratched.
"Would that concern you if it were indeed scratched, that there may be some other motive?" Meadows asked.
Koskinen initially declined to answer directly, but was pressed by Meadows to answer whether that would concern him.
"I wouldn't know whether to be concerned or not. I don't know anything about whether…" Koskinen said before being interrupted again.
"It concerns me, and I'm going to ask my staff to go and see how long it would actually take to get to that hard drive," Meadows said.
"I assume there's a lot of ways hard drives could scratch," Koskinen offered.
"I assume that too," Meadows deadpanned.
Other committee members noted that the committee has heard testimony from another IRS official who said that several other computers have suffered problems among officials being probed by the House. The official didn't give a specific number, but said "less than 20" computers may have had problems.
Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that means that close to 25 percent of the 82 IRS officials that Congress is trying to investigate may have had computer problems. Jordan and others said that failure rate is much higher than the 2 to 5 percent failure rate that industry experts would expect.
Meadows pressed Koskinen to admit that this is an anomaly, by saying the failure rate could be as much as 10 times higher than the industry standard.
"If you had 10 times the amount, that would be an anomaly," Koskinen finally agreed.
Regardless of how Lerner's hard drive was damaged, the Ways & Means Committee said Tuesday that they were told Lerner's emails may have been recoverable.
Ways & Means said it also learned that IT workers at the IRS originally recommended that an effort be made to recover those emails. That goes against a statement the IRS made last week in court, which said the data was unrecoverable.
"It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive," said Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). "The committee was told no data was recoverable and the physical drive was recycled and potentially shredded.
"To now learn that the hard drive was only scratched, yet the IRS refused to utilize outside experts to recover the data, raises more questions about potential criminal wrong doing at the IRS."
Lerner is at the center of the GOP probe into the IRS practice of applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. But the IRS said in June that more than two years' worth of Lerner's emails were lost because her hard drive "crashed."
The committee said a complicating factor is that there is evidence that Lerner's hard drive was at one point considered "recovered."
"It is these constant delays and late revelations that have forced this investigation to go on so long," Camp said. "If the IRS would just come clean and tell Congress and the American people what really happened, we could put an end to this."
— This story was updated at 11:44 a.m.