WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the IRS 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 was appearing at a rare evening hearing 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.
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