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WASHINGTON – Lois Lerner showed her political bias in vividly colorful language, and the pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor increased even more Wednesday morning, with the release of an email in which she called conservatives “a–holes” and “crazies.”
After releasing the email, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., wrote to Holder to demand that he appoint a special counsel to conduct “a serious investigation.”
GOP investigators believe the email, sent to an unnamed colleague while she was on vacation in England in 2012, seven months before the IRS scandal broke, shows Lerner had a strong political bias while in a position of great authority over groups applying for tax-exempt status.
The email is mostly filled with Lerner’s accounts of her experience as a tourist, including taking a shot a British politics.
Her correspondent then replies, “Well, you should hear the whacko wing of the GOP. (They’re saying) The U.S. is through; too many foreigners sucking the teat; time to hunker down, buy ammo and food, and prepare for the end,” and, “The right wing radio shows are scary to listen to.”
‘Great,’ Lerner replied. “Maybe we are through if there are that many a–holes.”
“And I’m talking about the hosts of the shows,” wrote her colleague. “The callers are rabid.”
Lerner concluded wrote that “we don’t need to worry about [illegal] alien terrorists. It’s our own crazies that will take us down.”
The revelation of the obscenity-infused email came just as the House Judiciary Committee convened a hearing Wednesday to quiz experts on whether there is a need for a special counsel to investigate the IRS targeting scandal.
Some of the most potentially damaging testimony may have come from the former assistant majority counsel for the Watergate Committee.
Professor Ronald Rotunda of Chapman University testified that if higher-ups were involved in the IRS scandal, either at the agency or the Justice Department, the DOJ would be doing exactly what it is doing now: slow-walking the case, not giving immunity and claiming to learn of evidence in the press.
He went even further.
“By trying to slow walk evidence and prevent discovery, the DOJ seems to be defending the IRS in court while claiming they are investigating them.”
The problem isn’t how far up the IRS it goes, he said, the problem is, “Is the DOJ part of the coverup?”
Rotunda said another reason a special prosecutor is needed is because President Obama, himself, undercut and prejudged the DOJ’s current investigation by claiming in a Super Bowl-day interview that there was not even a smidgeon of corruption in the IRS scandal.
Congressional investigators have been building a case for the appointment of a special prosecutor ever since hitting a brick wall when former IRS tax-exempt division chief Lois Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination rather than testifying.
When she did it a second time, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told WND that it might mean a “dead-end” for the congressional investigation and the public might never find out who ordered the IRS to target conservatives.
After that, it looked like Lerner’s emails might provide valuable information. But then the IRS reported in June that the hard drive on her computer had crashed during the time period critical to the investigation. In addition, her emails to outside agencies, such as any to the Justice Department or the White House, from mid-2009 to mid-2011, had been lost.
The IRS also reported that the hard drives of six other employees under investigation had also crashed.
A technician for the agency recently revealed there is an outside chance the backup tape containing Lerner’s emails might still exist, but investigators do not seem particularly hopeful.
After Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment a second time, the House of Representatives voted to find her in contempt of Congress and referred her to the DOJ for prosecution.
However, Holder has taken no action against her.
On May 7, the House passed a resolution calling on Holder to appoint a special counsel to investing IRS targeting of Americans on the basis of their perceived viewpoints.
On June 27, the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Ways and Means committees sent a letter to Holder reminding him of the request.
Hold has not responded to either the resolution or the letter.
Rotunda testified he was astounded by the refusal of the DOJ to give immunity to Lerner, “the one person who could clear it all up.”
There followed a line of questioning intended to prove Rotunda’s premise that the DOJ is not investigating the IRS, it is defending it.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked Rotunda, if he would call it slow walking that a year after the Justice Department supposedly began its investigation, it learned from press reports that key emails were missing, indicating its investigators had never even asked for them.
Rotunda said said that would be “very slow” walking.
Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., said if the investigating agents didn’t know about the missing emails, they should be fired, adding, “How could the FBI not know?”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he was particularly struck by the fact that Deputy Attorney General James Cole had testified that the DOJ did not learn of Lerner’s missing emails until hearing about it in the press, in June. It made him wonder whether the DOJ was really conducting an investigation at all.
Much attention was directed at the president’s comment that there wasn’t even a “smidgeon” of corruption in the IRS scandal.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R- S.C., observed that it wasn’t a candid “open-microphone situation,” but a declaration made on “the most-watched show in our culture that prejudged this investigation.”
Witness Jay Sekulow, whose American Center for Law and Justice has brought dozens of lawsuits against the government on behalf of tea-party groups, implied a huge conflict of interest between the White House and the DOJ when he asked, “Who told the president there is not a smidgeon of corruption?”
Sekulow went on to point out what he saw as another extreme conflict of interest, in that, while the Justice Department is supposedly investigating the IRS, it is also defending the IRS against the lawsuits his group had filed.
“The DOJ has been compromised in their investigation … because they are essentially investigating their own involvement in this scandal,” he marveled.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, observed, “You’ve got DOJ representing Lerner in court. Where I come from that is a conflict of interest. Doesn’t it seem bizarre you have the DOJ representing the accused while also investigating them?”
Goodlatte said there was clearly a conflict of interest between the DOJ and the administration, as evidenced by the president’s “smidgeon” comment and the Justice Department’s leak to the Wall Street Journal on January 13, that it did expect to file any criminal charges in the IRS scandal.
Republicans said that leak, made before the DOJ had conducted any actual investigating, made clear the need for a special prosecutor.
Goodlatte said the main question still to be answered was simply, “Who ordered the targeting and why?”
Issa has said he would be willing to give Lerner immunity to testify “if she would deliver to us the explanation of who she worked with in this conspiracy,” even though he said she was “biased,” “had an agenda” and “broke laws.”
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was ostensibly appointed to clean up the mess at the agency. But key Republican investigators have come to believe his testimony has not been entirely truthful and that he has even withheld evidence after not informing Congress of Lerner’s missing emails until June, even though he learned of the problem in April.
In fact, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Jordan accused Koskinen last week of revealing the loss of Lerner’s emails only because an exchange of hers with the Justice Department had been obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request made by the government watchdog group Judicial Watch.
In the email, Lerner and a member of the DOJ discussed criminally prosecuting conservative groups.
It was perhaps the most explosive exchange yet in the IRS hearings, when one week ago, Jordan essentially accused the head of the IRS of lying to Congress to cover up the scandal.
That was when he grilled Koskinen for waiting from April until June before informing Congress that two years of Lois Lerner's emails had been lost and that her hard drive had crashed.
“My theory is this, Mr. Koskinen, you guys weren’t ever gonna tell us until we caught you," Jordan pointedly told Koskinen.
"And we caught you because Judicial Watch did a FOIA request," he added.
The line of questioning began with Jordan asking: "Why didn't you tell us in April? Why'd you wait two months?"
The IRS chief said his motive was to first produce all of Lerner's emails that the agency possessed.
So, Jordan wondered, why did the IRS reveal Lerner's hard drive had supposedly crashed, causing the loss of two years of emails, to the Senate Finance Committee on June 13? Why not some other date?
After Koskinen said something to the effect that the occasion seemed right, Jordan countered sharply: "I think it is something different. I think you were never going to tell us."
Jordan said he believed the IRS was forced to make the revelation after learning the Oversight Committee had obtained a 2010 email between Lerner and Justice Department attorney Tony Pilger in which they discussed the possibility of criminally prosecuting conservative groups.
Jordan said the IRS learned June 9 that congressional investigators had obtained that email.
"Then, suddenly, four days later, on June 13, you tell the Finance Committee" about Lerner's missing emails, Jordan said.
"My theory is you were never going to tell us until you got caught," he told the IRS chief.
Jordan said he believed the only reason the IRS revealed the missing emails is because it had to confess it had lost its version of the crucial email between Pilger and Lerner.
Logical people would conclude, the subcommittee chairman said, it is what made Koskinen decide "we'd better come clean."
Koskinen bristled at the explosive charge that he had participated in a cover-up.
His voice rising, the commissioner retorted, "When you find evidence to support that, I'd like to see it."
Struggling a bit to regain his composure, he maintained, "If you think we could produce a report in four days, you don't know how a large organization functions."
Jordan calmly replied that he didn't think the IRS put together the report in four days.
"I think you just stuck it into the report," he said, saying the IRS thinking was, "They got us, we better come clean."
Koskinen shot back: "Can I respond to that? That's a serious charge. If you find any such evidence, I'll be astounded. Before you make that kind of charge and claim, you ought to have better evidence than a single email dated June 9."
Jordan said he was just pointing out that the "timing is pretty suspect," because the IRS had just discovered that investigators were getting emails from the DOJ that they weren't getting from them.
“In light of everything we’ve heard from the IRS, when you start looking at the timeline, it looks pretty suspect,” explained Jordan.
“And all I’m saying is, I’m not sure they were gonna tell us.”
Later, Jordan further hammered the point home.
He said IRS attorney Thomas Kane told the committee that senior IRS leadership first became concerned about the possibility of missing emails from Lerner on Feb. 2 and confirmed a hard drive crash only two days later.
Yet, Jordan pointed out, "you come to Congress" three times after that without informing investigators about the missing emails "and we're supposed to buy that? C'mon."
Even before the exchanges, GOP lawmakers had said the evidence now shows it is a mathematical near-certainty that the IRS has been engaged in a cover-up.
At the opening of last week 's hearing, Jordan expressed exasperation that the IRS story has gone from reporting the crash of just Lerner's hard drive to seven or eight hard-drive crashes and, now, as many as 20 crashes of hard drives belonging to IRS personnel under investigation.
Calling it "unbelievable," Jordan noted the committee has now learned that almost a fourth of the IRS people under investigation may have had hard-drive crashes.
Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif, said it was now clear that there was a "convenient loss of data by far more people than is explained by the relevant math formulas."
Under questioning by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Koskinen said he was told the industry average for hard drive crashes is 2 to 5 percent.
Meadows asked if it would be an anomaly if just the seven previously reported hard drive crashes had occurred, and the commissioner was compelled to agree that, yes, it would.
The GOP committee leaders, frustrated by what they see as an IRS cover-up and a Justice Department that refuses to investigate, are clearly attempting to build a case for having a special prosecutor take over the investigation into the IRS scandal.
While currently defending his department before Congress, Koskinen could end up defending himself against criminal charges in court if investigators conclude he failed to inform Congress of Lerner's missing emails in a timely manner, as he was required to do.
Subcommittee ranking member Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., asked the IRS commissioner whether the DOJ had told him if he is under investigation for not informing Congress of the missing emails promptly.
Koskinen said no.
GOP committee members have raised that prospect because Koskinen did not inform Congress of Lerner's missing emails and her hard drive crash until late June, although he learned of it in April, and someone in the IRS informed the White House that same month.
Koskinen's testimony follows a dizzying series of revelations in the preceding days about Lerner's missing hard drive, two years of missing emails and other possible hard-drive crashes.
Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division who has admitted her unit improperly targeted conservative groups, claimed she lost two years of emails in a critical time period for the investigation, from mid-2009 to mid-2011, after her hard drive supposedly crashed.
A week ago Friday, WND broke the news that IRS personnel had sworn under oath to a federal judge that the agency could not say with certainty what happened to the hard drive, but that it probably had been destroyed.
A week ago Monday, Issa, R-Calif., revealed that an IRS lawyer had recently testified in a closed session that it was possible back-up tapes of Lerner's email might exist, contrary to what Koskinen told the committee last month.
Then, a week ago Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee investigators said Lerner's hard drive may have only been scratched, not irreparably damaged, as Koskinen had said.
It was not clear if the scratch was deliberate or accidental.
And, after interviewing an IT analyst who worked on Lerner's hard drive, House investigators revealed it might have been possible for outside forensic technicians to recover some information from her computer.
“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,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan said on Tuesday
That committee also has doubts about the declaration under oath the IRS recently filed in federal court, which said it tried to recover data but the hard drive's information was destroyed.
The committee said an internal IT tracking system had listed Lerner's hard drive as "recovered" at one point. Investigators said an IRS employee interviewed by the committee was unable to explain the discrepancy.
Also on Tuesday, Issa called for Deputy Attorney General Cole to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate why Koskinen delayed informing Congress and the Department of Justice, or DOJ, about the destruction of critical evidence to congressional and criminal investigations.
The committee also revealed new testimony by IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane that senior IRS leadership first became concerned about the possibility of Lois Lerner's emails on Feb. 2 and confirmed a hard drive crash only two days later.
It was Kane who also revealed that up to 20 IRS hard drives may have crashed.
Last week, Cole testified the DOJ is investigating the delay by the IRS in alerting other agencies that they had lost former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails.
“The Committee has obtained information that senior IRS leadership knew in February 2014 that e-mails on Ms. Lerner’s hard drive were unrecoverable,” Issa and Jordan wrote.
“The IRS’ failure to disclose in a timely manner that it had destroyed evidence critical to congressional and criminal investigations is further reason that a special prosecutor is needed to thoroughly and independently investigate all facets of the IRS targeting.”
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCGarth