House Republicans accused the IRS and the Obama administration of conspiring to cover up political targeting of conservatives by destroying the computer hard drives containing former IRS official Lois Lerner's emails.
The IRS last week announced that it had exhausted all efforts to recover the data from Lerner's destroyed computer, but was unable to retrieve more than two years' worth of emails sought by two House committees investigating the alleged targeting.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the House Ways and Means Committee that there had been no effort to deceive investigators -- that in fact, documents containing emails describing the computer crash and the subsequent effort to fix it had been released to the committee last year. But committee Republicans said they weren't buying it.
"The IRS in charge of hundreds of millions of taxpayers' information. And you're now saying your technology system was so poor that years' worth of emails are forever unrecoverable?" said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. "How does that put anyone at ease? How far would the excuse 'I lost it' get with the IRS for an average American trying to file their yearly taxes who may have lost a few receipts."
Camp, after listening to Koskinen's testimony, said he was surprised not to hear an apology.
"I don't think an apology is owed," Koskinen replied. "We haven't lost an email since the start of this investigation."
"You can blame it on a technical glitch, but it is not a technical glitch to mislead the American people," Camp said. "You say that you have 'lost' the emails, but what you have lost is all credibility."
Koskinen denied that there had been any coordination between Lerner's team and the White House, a frequent accusation from Republicans who say the targeting was done deliberately to give President Obama an advantage against tea party political groups during the 2012 election.
"There's been no attempt to keep it a secret," Koskinen said. "My position has been, when we provide information, we provide it completely."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who was the vice presidential candidate at the time of the alleged targeting, told Koskinen: "I don't believe you."
"This is unbelievable," Ryan said. "That's your problem. Nobody believes you."
"I have a long career," Koskinen shot back. "That's the first time anyone's said I don't believe you."
"I don't believe you," Ryan repeated. "You ask taxpayers to hang onto seven years of their personal taxpayer info in case they're ever audited, and you can't keep more than six months of employees' emails?"
Committee Democrats, in turn, said that Republicans were "so determined to find a needle in a haystack that they seek desperately to add to the haystack even though no needle has been discovered."
Ranking member Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said incredulous Republicans would do well to remember the Bush administration's admission that it had lost of millions of emails that congressional Democrats demanded in their investigation into whether the dismissal of U.S. attorneys had been politically motivated.
Levin said the computer crashes were the fault of the "entirely underfunded and wholly deficient" technology the IRS was forced to use because Republicans had slashed the agency's budget five years in a row.
Original headline: Paul Ryan to IRS chief: I don't believe you!
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