WASHINGTON – Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wasted no time in accusing the head of the IRS of lying to Congress, unloading a blistering barrage of accusations at a Monday night hearing.
“At a minimum, you did not tell the whole truth,” during previous testimony, Issa told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, scornfully adding, “We are wondering what your word is worth.”
In his opening statement, Issa flatly told Koskinen he had given false testimony by promising to provide all emails of former IRS tax-exempt division chief Lois Lerner, while knowing two years of those emails were actually missing.
“You promised to produce documents,” he said. “You did not.”
“The committee requested all of Lois Lerner’s emails over a year ago,” said the chairman, noting the emails had been subpoenaed in August 2013 and again in February 2014. But, Issa accused, “You worked to cover up the fact they were missing and only came forward to fess up on a Friday afternoon after you had been caught red-handed.”
“Did you hope you could run out the clock on this scandal? Perhaps you hoped Congress would never know it was missing emails.”
Issa acknowledged Koskinen did not “personally did not destroy the emails. But by your actions and your deception, you now own this scandal.”
In a stunning admission under questioning from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Koskinen divulged that the IRS made no effort to recover Lerner’s email archive from the six month backups after her initial computer problems in June of 2011.
Koskinen had informed the committee that emails were not backed-up on a server, but on a tape that recorded emails for only six months.
So, Chaffetz simply asked, "When Lois Lerner figured out on June 13th (2011) that her computer crashed, and there have been emails showing that she was going to great lengths to try to get that recovered, why didn’t they just go to that six month tape?"
"Because that six month tape is a disaster recovery tape that has all of the emails on it and is a very complicated tape to actually extract emails for, but I have not seen any emails to explain why they didn’t do it, so it would be difficult, but I don’t know why," replied the IRS boss.
"Did anybody try?" asked Chaffetz.
"I have no idea or indication that they did," admitted Koskinen.
An incredulous Chaffetz then recounted, "So you have multiple emails showing she was trying to recover this, it’s the testimony of the IRS that they were trying desperately, in fact you got a forensic team to try to extract this, you went to great lengths, you made a big point over the last week about all the efforts you’re going through, but they were backed up on tape, and you didn’t do it?"
"As far as I know they did not," the head of the IRS.
Earlier, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, made a remark even more pointed than Issa's accusation of lying, subtly suggesting during a heated exchange that Koskinen himself might come under investigation at some point.
Noting that the IRS learned about the loss of nearly two year's worth of Lerner's emails back in February, but had not informed Congress until ten days ago, Jordan wondered out loud, "At one point does it become obstruction of justice?"
"After days, weeks, or months?"
Jordan and other committee members were also tremendously frustrated that Koskinen continually maintained that he could not even remember who at the IRS told them about two years worth of missing emails.
The congressman was livid when the commissioner said his excuse was the IRS was in the "middle of filing season" in April.
When Jordan pointed out that the IRS informed Congress by burying the announcement of the missing emails on page 7 of a lengthy document on a Friday, Koskinen corrected him, saying it was page 5.
"Page 5!" Jordan yelled in mock-amazement, causing laughter to ripple through the hearing room. "Ridiculous," he added.
Jordan also asked why Koskinen did not inform the FBI or the Justice Department of such an important find in a major investigation.
The IRS chief said that was because criminal charges had not been filed.
Issa later reminded him, for the record, that the Ways and Means Committee had referred four criminal counts against Lerner to the Justice Department.
Issa began the hearing by playing a video of Koskinen's previous appearance before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on March 26, 2014.
The video contained a montage of GOP committee members demanding that Koskinen produce all of Lerner's emails, including "every single email in the time period in the subpoena."
"Will you commit to provide all those emails?" asked Jordan on the video.
"Yes, we will do that," answered Koskinen, adding, "We never said we would not provide all the emails."
Also in the video, GOP committee members stressed how crucial those emails were. They explained that was because Lerner had refused to testify before Congress (after invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination), making her emails the only records of her activities during the period she admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
After the video, Issa told the IRS chief, "We are sick and tired of your game playing."
Issa later asked if Koskinen was aware on March 26, when he previously testified, that Lerner's hard drive had crashed in June of 2011.
When Koskinen replied "No," Issa asked if his IT people were aware of it, and the top tax man said, "Yes."
Later, Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., reminded Koskinen that in his testimony Friday before the Ways and Means Committee, he acknowledged the IRS learned there was some kind of problem in February, because they had not found nearly as many of Lerner's emails as they would have expected, in that time period.
Koskinen said the IRS knew in February but claimed he did not learn until April.
But, under further questioning, he admitted he did know there was an "issue" but did not know how serious a problem it was in February.
DeSantis remarked that did not seem like completely candid testimony.
Under questioning by a Democrat, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Koskinen issued a statement that stopped lawmakers in their tracks, claiming he believed that all of Lerner's emails would be recovered.
Issa was so struck by the remark he interrupted to make sure he had heard correctly, asking Koskinen if he meant to say "all" of her emails or just "some?"
"All," the IRS boss affirmed.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. took to task Koskinen for claiming there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing before all the facts had been gathered.
"You have already said, multiple times today, that there was no evidence that you found of any criminal wrongdoing," Gowdy said. "I want you to tell me, What criminal statutes you have evaluated?"
"I have not looked at any," the IRS commissioner admitted.
"Well then how can you possibly tell our fellow citizens that there is no criminal wrongdoing if you don't even know what statutes to look at?" a stunned Gowdy asked.
"Because I've seen no evidence that anyone consciously..." the IRS chief attempted to assert.
"Well how would you know what elements of the crime existed? You don't even know what statutes are in play," Gowdy continued, becoming more agitated. "I'm going to ask you again: What statutes have you evaluated?"
"I think you can rely on common sense," said Koskinen.
"Common sense? Instead of the criminal code, you want to rely on common sense? No, Mr. Koskinen, you can shake your head all you want to, commissioner. You have said today that there's no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and I'm asking you what criminal statutes you have reviewed to reach that conclusion."
"I reviewed no criminal statutes," said the commissioner.
Just before taking the hot seat in front of the committee, Koskinen spoke with WND, and the commissioner revealed the IRS had a plan to try to recover Lerner's emails.
The IRS chief said the Treasury Department is now searching archives to see if it can find Lerner's two years of missing emails.
After Koskinen said the IRS only backs up six months worth of emails, WND asked if the same problem could happen again?
When Koskinen replied yes, WND asked if that wasn't a fundamental problem, given the IRS requires taxpayers to keep seven years worth of records?
After admitting that was true, he then revealed the Tax Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, was now looking into the archives to see if they could recover anything.
Koskinen said he notified TIGTA 10 days ago.
The commissioner also told WND that the company Sonasoft, which had a contract to archive IRS emails, was responsible only for the office of the Chief Counsel's email, covering some 3,000 employees, not the entire agency.
When the subject of Sonasoft came up during the hearing, Issa asked Koskinen why the IRS did not have a reliable backup system.
The IRS chief said the estimated cost of $10-to-30 million was too much.
Expressing disbelief, Issa said, given the IRS's $1.8 billion IT budget, should that not have been a priority?
"If we had the right resources, there would be a lot of priorities," testily retorted Koskinen.
However, Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn. pointed out that $10-to-30 million was not much compared to the $89 million the IRS paid in bonuses last year, including $1 million to employees who actually owed back taxes.
The rare evening hearing was convened following a dramatic revelation 10 days ago when the IRS claimed to learn in February that Lerner's hard drive had crashed on, or around, June 13, 2011 – exactly three years earlier.
The IRS claimed the crash caused the loss of28 months of Lerner's emails sent to addresses outside the IRS, from roughly mid-2009 to mid-2011, a crucial period for investigators.
Lerner's emails to people outside the IRS are particularly important because she contacted members of the Department of Justice about the possibility of criminally prosecuting conservatives for their political activities.
The IRS claimed to have discovered the loss of Lerner's emails in February, even though the investigation had been underway for almost a year.
In April, the IRS informed the Treasury Department, which then informed the White House.
But, without explanation, the IRS did not tell Congress and the public for another six weeks, until June 13.
An irate Jordan asked Koskinen to pledge he would find out who at the IRS told the Treasury Department about the missing emails.
"I will do my best," a clearly hesitant Koskinen replied, which caused Jordan to scoff.
As recently as a meeting last Monday with Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Koskinen failed to inform investigators that the emails of six others IRS employees were missing, in addition to Lerner's.
Koskinen withheld that information even though Hatch had asked the IRS chief to formally attest that all communications had been provided to Congress.
The IRS boss testified that he wanted to complete the collection of all of Lerner's emails before informing Congress of the two years of missing emails, a claim that made GOP lawmakers howl with anger.
Something else that has congressional investigations very suspicious is the remarkable coincidence that Lerner's supposed hard drive crash happened just 10 days after the very first time Congress asked the IRS whether it was targeting of conservatives.
Lerner's reported her hard drive failed on, or around, June 13, 2011.
The first time the IRS learned Congress was looking into the targeting of conservatives was on June 3, 2011.
That means two years of Lerner's communications disappeared just 10 days (or fewer) after Congress had made its first inquiry into the IRS targeting of conservatives, a coincidence that many GOP lawmakers found too suspicious to be happenstance.
On June 3, 2011, Ways ad Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., had sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman questioning the agency’s investigations into donations to conservative nonprofits, upon which gift taxes were being imposed, as well as the agency’s audits of some 501(c)(4) organizations.
“Every aspect of this tax investigation, from the timing to the sudden reversal of nearly thirty years of IRS practice, strongly suggests that the IRS is targeting constitutionally protected political speech. The IRS must explain its actions or risk creating a chilling effect that threatens not only political advocacy groups, but all tax-exempt organizations that depend on contributions from individual donors,” wrote Camp.
Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, suggested that lack of urgency on the part of IRS and Koskinen to find out what happened to Lerner's emails suggested a coverup.
The congressman repeatedly asked why the commissioner had not called upon the FBI to investigate.
"We have Lois Lerner having invoked the Fifth in front of this committee, indicating that she's fearful of criminal prosecution, which should be enough for you, a man of integrity, to pause and think, maybe crimes were committed within my agency. And now that these emails are missing, maybe someone not of integrity committed a crime in destroying them? You should call the FBI. You should call for a special prosecutor."
" I cannot enter into Lois Lerner's mind. I've never met her. As to what she..." Koskinen replied.
Turner countered, "I asked you to pick up the phone and call the FBI, not enter Lois Lerner's mind."
"I am not, I am not going to call the FBI. The inspector general has started. When the inspector general..." said the commissioner.
Turner said Koskinen's own personal integrity was at stake if he did not call the FBI.
"I reject the suggestion that my integrity depends upon my calling the FBI. The inspector general will issue a report. We will all get the benefit of that report. And then we can determine what the appropriate action is to be," insisted the commissioner.
But Turner wasn't having it, concluding, "I have always believed that what happened in your agency with Lois Lerner is a crime. I believe that there were others involved. I believe the emails that are missing are the ones that would probably give us an ability to establish that. And I believe that somebody undertook criminal act in its destruction. And I believe that since you can't tell me I'm wrong, and it's enough of a doubt in your mind, as the commissioner of the agency you should call the FBI."
Koskinen has been a major donor to Democratic candidates and groups, contributing $100,000 over four decades.
He has contributed to the Democratic candidate for president in every election since 1980, including $2,300 to Obama in 2008, and $5000 to Obama in 2012.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth