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IRS head says no obstruction of Congress in probe

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The head of the Internal Revenue Service brushed aside accusations Monday that the agency has obstructed investigations into the targeting of tea party and other political groups, even as Republican lawmakers questioned his credibility.

Commissioner John Koskinen appeared at a rare evening hearing Monday on Capitol Hill to answer questions about lost emails by a key figure in the probe. On Tuesday, the committee will hear from a White House official who once worked at the IRS.

"I know tonight will be difficult, and it deserves to be difficult for both sides," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "We have a problem with you, and you have a problem with maintaining your credibility."

Issa accused Koskinen of misleading the Oversight Committee in the spring, when he promised to turn over Lois Lerner's emails. Since then, the IRS has disclosed that Lerner's computer crashed in 2011, losing an unknown number of those emails.

Koskinen said he first learned there was a problem with Lerner's computer in February, but didn't learn that emails were lost until April. The IRS notified Congress June 13.

Lerner is the former head of the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The Oversight Committee is investigating the handling of applications from tea party and other political groups.

"I subpoenaed you here tonight because, frankly, I'm sick and tired of your game-playing in response to congressional oversight," Issa told Koskinen. "You, commissioner, are the president's hand-picked man to restore trust and accountability at the IRS. You testified under oath in March that you would produce all of Lois Lerner's emails subpoenaed by this committee."

"Mr. Commissioner, at a minimum you didn't tell the whole truth that you knew on that day," Issa added.

Koskinen said, "All the emails we have will be provided. I did not say I would provide you emails that disappeared. If you have a magical way for me to do that I'd be happy to know about it."

He added, "I never said I would provide you emails we didn't have."

Koskinen said congressional investigators were informed months ago that Lerner had computer problems back in 2011. Koskinen said emails provided to the committee last fall showed that Lerner's computer had crashed.

The emails indicate that Lerner had lost some data, though they don't explicitly say that Lerner's emails were lost. They were provided to congressional investigators as part of the tea party investigation.

"So it should be clear that no one has been keeping this information from Congress," Koskinen said.

In 2011, the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen said. He said Lerner's hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed.

The IRS inspector general is investigating the lost emails, Koskinen said.

"It is not unusual for computers anywhere to fail, especially at the IRS in light of the aged equipment IRS employees often have to use in light of the continual cuts in its budget these past four years," Koskinen said. "Since Jan. 1 of this year, for example, over 2,000 employees have suffered hard drive crashes."

The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 period because she had copied in other IRS employees. Overall, the IRS said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013

Lerner, who is now retired from the IRS, has refused to testify at two Oversight Committee hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in handling tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or knew about it.

If anyone outside the agency was involved, investigators were hoping for clues in Lerner's emails. The White House says it has found no emails between anyone in the executive office of the president and Lerner.

"Republicans have been trying desperately — and unsuccessfully — for more than a year to link this scandal to the White House," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee. "Rather than continuing on this path, I sincerely hope we will turn to constructive legislation with concrete solutions to help federal agencies run more effectively and efficiently."

Koskinen said there was no evidence that Lerner intentional destroyed the emails. To the contrary, the IRS went to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on Lerner's computer, even sending it to the agency's forensic lab, he said.

The Oversight Committee is holding a second hearing on the lost emails Tuesday, which sparked a back-and-forth with the White House. Issa invited an attorney in the White House counsel's office to testify, but the White House balked, saying her appearance wasn't necessary.

Issa responded Monday evening by issuing a subpoena for Jennifer O'Connor, who worked at the IRS from May to November 2013, helping the agency gather documents related to congressional investigations, Issa said. O'Connor has since moved to the White House counsel's office.

Issa said he wants to ask O'Connor about Lerner's lost emails. Late Monday, the White House said O'Connor would testify.

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  • Suspicious Timing
    I read another article indicating her computer "crashed" ten days after congress first made inquiry to the issue of targeting taxpayers. If nothing else, it is an amazing coincidence w/in 10 days her computer crashes. This fact makes the actions extremely suspicious.
  • Laughable - Blame it on IT
    I'm in the IT field. E-mail is hosted on a server or the cloud, either would be backed up on a regular basis (so no lost e-mails). Even if his laptop crashes, it's his responsibility to backup data to prevent a loss. This excuse is laughable and either we're missing some key facts or this is a blatant cover-up. Yet another example of how all of our governments are failing us.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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