Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen on Monday denied telling the White House about missing e-mails that could serve as evidence in the IRS targeting investigation.
The IRS chief’s testimony led to more questions than answers about how word of the missing e-mails spread to the White House before Congress learned about the matter on June 13.
“I didn’t tell anybody,” Koskinen told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I was advised. I had no one I was going to tell.”
Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) put a finer point on the matter, asking: “Did you cause someone to find out at the White House, or Treasury or your [inspector general]?”
“I did not,” Koskinen said. “And if you have any evidence of that, I’d be happy to see it.”
The committee is seeking emails from IRS official Lois Lerner, a key witness in the panel’s investigation. The agency claims to have lost the records after Lerner’s hard drive crashed in June 2011.
Issa has suggested that the Obama administration is covering up e-mails to hide evidence that the IRS deliberately targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny.
Koskinen said the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has begun investigating the missing records.
Monday’s hearing began with theatrics, as Issa aired a video montage of Republican lawmakers demanding all of Lerner’s e-mails and Koskinen saying he would deliver. The point was clear: the IRS chief, who took over the agency soon after the targeting controversy emerged, had promised transparency.
“I said I would provide all the e-mails — we are providing all the e-mails,” Koskinen said Monday, adding, “I never said I would provide e-mails we didn’t have.”
His remarks prompted indignation from Republicans, who suggested the IRS chief should have been more forthcoming about the lost records. “I have lost patience with you,” Issa said.
GOP lawmakers expressed similar frustration at an earlier missing-emails hearing on Friday with the House Ways and Means Committee. Koskinen refused to apologize that day, saying the problem was due to “technical glitches.”
The commissioner said Monday that he first heard of a possible hard drive problem in February and that he learned definitively that the data was not recoverable in late April. He said he could not recall who told him about the problem.
The IRS has released e-mails showing that Lerner tried to recover her files with help from technical experts, including IRS forensic specialists.
Koskinen suggested that the loss of e-mails could have been avoided with additional funding for the IT upgrades, saying the IRS’s computers and backup systems are dated. He said Congress has reduced the agency’s budget by $850 million over the past four years and that the House has proposed cutting it by another $350 million for 2015.
“Well, surely that will change in light of our deep and profound concern for what happened to Lois Lerner’s hard drive,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Md.) said sarcastically.
Republicans said the IRS could have paid for upgrades with the tens of millions of dollars the agency spent on bonuses and conferences in recent years.
Lawmakers have criticized the IRS for paying performance awards to employees who owe taxes and for spending more than $4 million on a 2010 junket in Anaheim for 300 workers.
Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) apologized to Koskinen on Monday for the Republicans’ posture toward him.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a display of this kind of disrespect in all the time I’ve been here in Congress,” Tierney said. “It’s unfortunate that anybody would have to be subjected to it.”
The House oversight committee is scheduled to hold a second hearing on the missing e-mails on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. The panel has called on the U.S. Archivist David Ferriero and former IRS attorney Jennifer O’Connor, who now works as a White House lawyer, to testify.