Congressional Republicans said Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service has lost emails from six other officials besides Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit.
Last Friday, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, R-Mich., revealed that the IRS had lost more than two years’ worth of emails sent between Lerner and people outside the IRS (see IRS Lost 2 Years of Lois Lerner’s Emails with Outsiders). Congress has held a series of hearings to investigate revelations from Lerner last year that the IRS used terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot” to screen applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Lerner pleaded the Fifth Amendment in two congressional hearings after giving a brief statement defending her actions and now faces contempt of Congress charges.
The IRS said it provided or is in the process of providing 67,000 emails from Lerner to congressional investigators in response to the various probes. But a computer crash in 2011 caused Lerner to lose many of her files, including emails sent between January 2009 and April 2011 between her and accounts outside the IRS. Internal emails have been recovered, however.
Camp and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have scheduled hearings with IRS commissioner John Koskinen to find out how the agency could have lost the emails (see Republicans Demand Answers from IRS on Missing Lerner Emails).
On Tuesday, Camp and House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D., R-La., revealed that the committee’s early investigation into the lost emails indicates the problem is much bigger than just Lerner.
In addition to Lerner’s emails, the IRS cannot produce records from six other IRS employees involved in the extra scrutiny given to conservative and other political groups applying for tax-exempt status. One of those figures is Nikole Flax, who served as chief of staff to Steven T. Miller, who at the time of the targeting was deputy commissioner and would later serve as acting commissioner of the IRS. He was forced out of his job amid the mounting investigations last year.
The timeframe for which Flax’s communications are claimed to be unrecoverable covers when the Washington, D.C., office of the Exempt Organizations unit wrote and directed the Cincinnati field office to send questionnaires, including demands for donor information, to conservative groups.
Camp and Boustany also claimed that the IRS has been keeping secret for months the fact that the agency lost the records. Ways and Means investigators say they have confirmed that the IRS first knew of the missing emails as early as February 2014, nearly three months prior to newly installed IRS commissioner John Koskinen telling the committee the IRS would produce all of Lois Lerner’s emails.
IRS spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“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. Even when the IRS does admit something, they are not fully honest with us. Despite their attempt to bury the missing Lerner emails on page 15 of a 27-page letter that arrived late Friday, we now know documents from other central figures, like Nikole Flax, are missing. The fact that Ms. Flax was a frequent visitor to the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building only raises more questions. Who was she visiting at the White House and what were they talking about? Was she updating the White House on the targeting or was she getting orders? These are answers we don’t yet have, because—surprise, surprise—a few computers crashed. Plot lines in Hollywood are more believable than what we are getting from this White House and the IRS.”
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., commented on the computer failures and lost emails at the IRS.
“It is unfortunate that the IRS experienced equipment failure that resulted in several computers crashing and some email data being lost from Lois Lerner’s hard drive between 2009 and 2011,” Levin said in a statement. “But every equipment failure is not a conspiracy. The IRS has taken every step to restore the data, and has already retrieved the emails sent internally during that time period from non-impacted computers. It is important to keep in mind that the period of computer technology failure occurred before Lois Lerner was even made aware of the inappropriate criteria screeners were using to select 501(c)(4) applications, according to the Inspector General’s report. In the last year, 700,000 pages of documents have been produced to accommodate congressional investigations without one shred of evidence that the gross mismanagement within the Exempt Organization division was politically motivated or involved anyone outside of the IRS.”