Four days after the IRS admitted it had lost about two years’ worth of emails sent to and from ex-agency official Lois Lerner because of a computer crash, two congressional Republicans have alleged that the IRS also cannot produce emails from several other employees connected to the Tea Party scandal.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight Chairman Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) said on Tuesday that the IRS has lost emails from six other agency workers because of computer crashes. One of those employees was Nikole Flax, who served as chief of staff to then-IRS deputy commissioner Steven Miller.
Miller was serving as acting IRS commissioner when the agency admitted in May 2013 that it gave Tea Party and other conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status extra scrutiny. Miller, a 25-year IRS veteran, resigned from his post shortly after the scandal came to light.
Lerner served as the head of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, where applications for tax-exempt status are reviewed. She retired from the agency last September.
Early last month, the House of Representatives voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress because she refused to answer questions about the targeting scandal during two separate hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
House Republicans want criminal charges to be filed against Lerner for improperly influencing the IRS to take action against conservative organizations, disclosing confidential taxpayer information, and impeding an investigation. The US Justice Department has said it is conducting an investigation of the IRS’s actions, as are the Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform committees and the Senate Finance Committee.
Congressional investigators wanted to see all of Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2013 as part of its probe into the IRS’s handling of conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, but the agency said last Friday that Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, which wiped out a huge chunk of those communications, the Associated Pressreported.
Prior to the targeting controversy, the IRS did not keep records of or back up all emails. Rather, they relied on employees to archive them on their personal computers after they ran out of storage space in their Microsoft Outlook inboxes, Politicoreported.
The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from 2009 to 2011 because Lerner had copied in other IRS employees. The agency said it pieced together the emails from the computers of 82 other IRS workers. Overall, the IRS said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013, according to the AP.
Camp and Boustany said Ways and Means investigators confirmed that the IRS first knew of the lost emails as early as February 2014.
“It looks like the American people were lied to, and the IRS tried to cover up the fact it conveniently lost key documents in this investigation,” Camp and Boustany said in a joint statement. “The White House promised full cooperation, the commissioner promised full access to Lois Lerner emails, and now the agency claims it cannot produce those materials – and they’ve known for months they couldn’t do this.”
The IRS did not respond on Tuesday to an email seeking comment.
The two Republican congressmen also stated that the time frame of Flax’s now-lost emails covered when the IRS’s Washington, DC, office wrote and directed the agency’s Cincinnati field office to send “abusive questionnaires, including inappropriate demands for donor information, to conservative groups.”
After news of the scandal broke in May 2013, Lerner had said the targeting of conservative groups was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch announced last month that it had emails tying the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups to Washington.
Camp and Boustany also called on the White House to “immediately give an independent prosecutor full access and full authority to investigate every angle of this case.”
The missing emails will be discussed by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen during hearings before the House Ways and Means Committee on June 20 and the House Oversight Committee the evening of June 23.