After a new government probe found that 24,000 Internal Revenue Service emails were destroyed relating to the targeting of tea party groups, the White House still "absolutely" stands by President Barack Obama's previous assertion that there was corruption in the agency.
Earlier Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), referencing a recent watchdog report that backup drives of ex-IRS official Lois Lerner emails were erased, said this could amount to a destruction of evidence.
“There are some 24,000 potential emails that were destroyed. It’s a destruction of evidence,” Chaffetz said Thursday at the start of an oversight committee hearing. “We want to pursue the facts. I know there are Democrats on the other side of the aisle that say there’s nothing here. Let’s move along. Let the evidence speak. When there’s a destruction of evidence, that goes to a whole other level.”
TheBlaze asked White House press secretary Josh Earnest for a response to Chaffetz's statement about potential destruction of evidence.
"I’m not sure that’s exactly what occurred," Earnest said, referring the question to the Treasury Department.
Asked if in light of the latest email revelations, the president still believed there was "not even a smidgen of corruption," Earnest responded, "Absolutely."
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, reported that about 24,000 emails were lost because 422 backup tapes were erased. Inspector General J. Russell George believed the erasing was not intentional. But, he said, it's likely the emails were to and from Lerner, the central figure in the IRS scandal.
IRS spokesman Dean J. Patterson said the agency has not been fully briefed on TIGTA's findings.
"Protecting email, backup tapes and information related to the investigation has been important to the IRS, and this priority was communicated to all affected IRS functions beginning in May 2013. This guidance has been repeated on numerous occasions since that time," Patterson said in a statement. "The IRS recognizes there was a clear breakdown of communication in one part of the organization regarding the need to preserve and retain the back-up tapes and information, although TIGTA concluded this wasn’t intentional."
The inspector general is still reviewing another 735 backup tapes, which could recover additional emails.
Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Tim Camus told the House committee that it was an “ubelievable set of circumstances that would allow that to happen. It is going to be fully documented in our report and I’m not sure I can describe that to you in five minutes.”
Chaffetz had similar thoughts about the matter being unbelievable.
“You add this all in combination, it just defies any sense of logic,” Chaffetz said during the hearing. “It gets to the point where it truly gets to be unbelievable. Somebody has to be held accountable.”
The IRS has acknowledged that from February 2010 through May 2012, the IRS targeted Tea Party and conservative groups for increased scrutiny in gaining tax-exempt status. Lerner, then-director of the IRS exempt organizations unit, admitted to the targeting in May 2013, ahead of the first TIGTA report that discovered the targeting.
Amid the investigation, in June 2014, the IRS informed Congress that it had lost about two years' worth of Lerner’s emails.
In February 2014, Kate Duvall, IRS chief counsel to the commissioner, learned that there were significant gaps in Lerner’s emails, but 30-days later IRS officials erased the backup tapes. Before the inspector general’s report, the IRS did not search for five out of six sources that ultimately produced new undisclosed emails.