IRS officials broke federal law by failing to report the loss of two years’ worth of emails sent and received by Lois Lerner, the former official accused of being behind the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, the government’s top archivist testified yesterday.
The Internal Revenue Service violated the Federal Records Act by not telling the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration about the missing Lerner emails, Archivist of the U.S. David Ferriero said at a hearing on the targeting scandal held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“They did not follow the law,” Ferriero said.
The testimony came as a new Fox News poll found that three-quarters of voters — 76 percent — said Lerner’s missing emails were deliberately destroyed.
The skepticism crossed party lines, the poll found, as 90 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Democrats said the Lerner emails were destroyed intentionally. Only 12 percent said the destruction of the emails was accidental, and another 12 percent said they weren’t sure.
At the same hearing, a White House attorney and former counsel to the IRS defended the tax agency’s response to congressional probes of the agency’s unusual scrutiny of tea party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
The House committee had questioned IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a hearing Monday about how Lerner’s emails went missing and why the agency waited until recently to notify Congress.
IRS officials say a computer hard drive crash in 2011 erased Lerner’s emails, which were not permanently backed up.
Jennifer O’Connor, who worked as IRS counsel for six months last year before leaving for the White House, denied accusations the tax agency deliberately misled lawmakers.
“The record of the IRS while I was there and since then shows the hard work and diligence in trying to get the documents the committees are seeking,” O’Connor said.
Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Monday that Koskinen purposely misled lawmakers in March when he promised to produce all emails sent by Lerner and did not mention the crashed hard drive. Republicans say IRS officials knew about the lost emails as early as February but withheld the information from Congress until June 13.
Issa said he believes the emails will answer lingering questions, such as whether the IRS continued to delay applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups even after the agency admitted acting improperly and whether targeting included liberal groups.
Koskinen said the IRS has handed over 750,000 documents to Congress and has recovered some 24,000 of Lerner’s missing emails. He said the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration has begun investigating the hard drive crash.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is among Republicans who have pushed back hard, contending the effort to recover the emails is not sufficient.
O’Connor said the IRS learned of the missing emails in April – long after her departure from the agency in November 2013 – which is why she didn’t know about them.
Lawmakers were skeptical.
“I can’t believe you’re not being more candid with us,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told O’Connor. “Why are you being so elusive?”
Republicans asked O’Connor why the IRS told the Treasury Department about Lerner’s missing emails before it told Congress. She said she had no knowledge of the Obama administration’s handling of that information because she joined the White House only about a month ago.
When Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked who from Treasury told the White House that the emails were lost, O’Connor responded: “I’d love to be helpful … I just started.”