Two Treasury Department inspectors general revealed last week someone erased computer evidence during the investigation into the IRS targeting scandal—months after the agency was ordered to preserve the documents.Timothy Camus and J. Russell George made the disclosure during a Thursday hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They said 422 backup tapes were destroyed and about 24,000 emails were lost in March 2014, the same month IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress the agency was fully complying with the investigation.
The controversy revolves around Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt division, who acknowledged in 2013 her department improperly singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny. Investigators discovered her computer crashed in 2011, and government IT specialists were unable to detect why. Camus and George said Lerner borrowed multiple computers on loan and deleted thousands of emails.
Koskinen has repeatedly told Congress the agency would work to find the emails, but last month he said after “working tirelessly” he found nothing.“We’ve confirmed the backup tapes no longer exist,” Koskinen said. He maintained Lerner destroyed the hard drive on the computer and no additional information could be retrieved.
But Camus, the deputy inspector general, performed a search and found six additional pieces of evidence, including the missing backup tapes. Camus determined five of the six pieces of evidence, including Lerner’s BlackBerry cellphone and loaner laptops, did not contain relevant information to the investigation.
Despite a subpoena order to provide documents, IRS employees working night shifts demagnetized the contents of Lerner’s’ computers, according to the inspectors general. They said Koskinen failed to inform the employees about the May 2013 subpoena order to preserve the documents.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., suggested Koskinen committed a crime by lying to Congress about the availability of the emails. He said Americans are “sick and tired of being snookered” by the government.
“I urge you to hold these people accountable,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the committee. He and other Republicans called the ongoing IRS scandal worse than Watergate.
Democrats on the committee disagreed. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the panel’s top Democrat, criticized Republicans for holding 22 hearings and spending $20 million in taxpayer money on the investigation.
He urged the committee to move on and “focus on bipartisan investigations that will help American families in their daily lives.”
When George’s first report came out in 2013, it set off bipartisan criticism. It caused several top members of IRS leadership to retire or resign, including Lerner.
Lerner maintains she did nothing wrong, but she refused to answer questions at two Oversight Committee hearings, twice invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. The House last year voted to hold her in contempt of Congress, but the Justice Department—which is conducting its own investigation—declined to bring charges.