The head of the Internal Revenue Service said Monday he has seen no evidence anyone committed a crime when the agency lost emails that might shed light on the targeting of tea party and other political groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Republicans in Congress aren't buying it. On Tuesday, they will hear from a White House official who once worked at the IRS.
Jennifer O'Connor worked at the IRS from May to November 2013, helping the agency gather documents related to the congressional investigations, said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. O'Connor has since moved to the White House counsel's office.
Issa subpoenaed O'Connor on Monday night after the White House declined his invitation to have her testify. After getting the subpoena, the White House relented.
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Issa said he wants to question O'Connor about former IRS official Lois Lerner's lost emails. The IRS said Lerner's computer crashed in 2011, and emails she had archived on the hard drive were lost.
Lerner used to head 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. Congressional investigators want Lerner's emails to see if there is evidence that anyone outside the IRS was involved.
"Before her promotion to the White House, Ms. O'Connor led the response to the congressional targeting inquiry and she is uniquely qualified to explain why attorneys did not focus on and flag Lerner's 'lost' emails at the outset," Issa said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said, "Republicans have been trying desperately — and unsuccessfully — for more than a year to link this scandal to the White House."
David Ferriero, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration, was also scheduled to testify. The National Archives has asked the IRS to investigate the loss of records, and whether any disposal of data was authorized.
On Monday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared at a rare evening hearing before Issa's committee to answer questions about the lost emails. The hearing was contentious, with Koskinen brushing aside accusations that the IRS has obstructed the political group targeting investigations.
"I have the ability to say I have seen no evidence of any crime," Koskinen said.
Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, scoffed at Koskinen's assertion.
"I have always believed that what happened in your agency with Lois Lerner is a crime," Turner said. "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 a criminal act in its destruction."
Turner, however, acknowledged he has no evidence to back up his belief.
Koskinen said there was no evidence that Lerner intentionally destroyed the emails. To the contrary, he said the IRS went to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on Lerner's computer, even sending it to the agency's forensic lab.
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 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.
The IRS inspector general is investigating the lost emails, Koskinen said.
Lerner, who is now retired from the IRS, has refused to testify at two Oversight Committee hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. In May, the House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
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