IRS Commissioner John Koskinen revealed Wednesday that he is not speaking to any potential witnesses in the missing-emails case while his agency’s inspector general conducts his own investigation.
Koskinen claimed that IRS inspector general J. Russell George told him “not to do any further investigations or interviews” with employees pertaining to hard drive crashes, and that’s why he did not voluntarily provide a key witness to congressional investigators. But Koskinen later admitted that the inspector general never told him not to cooperate with Congress.
The IRS has been nominally conducting its own internal investigation into the IRS conservative targeting scandal since 2013, but that now appears to be over.
Koskinen’s statement stunned Republican lawmakers at a morning House Oversight and Government Reform investigations subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, who stated, “It has taken subpoenas to get people to talk.” Jordan called Koskinen’s statement “not accurate,” citing IRS prep sessions with employees who get interviewed by Congress to prove that the IRS is still talking to potential witnesses.
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy grilled Koskinen on his remarks, asking him that if sexual harassment or racial discrimination occurred “you would wait until the IG investigated” before asking around about it.
“There is nothing about an ongoing IG investigation that would prevent you from doing your job,” Gowdy said. “There is nothing talismanic about an IG investigation…You could do a dual investigation.”
Koskinen claimed ignorance on several different fronts.
“I assume there’s a lot of ways that hard drives can get scratched,” Koskinen said, referring to Lois Lerner’s “scratched” hard drive, which he claimed he found out about this morning. Koskinen also said that he did not find out about Lerner’s computer crash in mid-February, when his underlings found out, but only learned about it months later.
“I haven’t talked to anybody about this. I haven’t asked anybody about it,” Koskinen said, referring to email backup tapes that might still exist, but which the IRS did not check after the computers of Lois Lerner and up to 20 other IRS employees central to the investigation allegedly crashed. “Nobody has any information about what was on those tapes or whether they were relevant…We have stopped asking people about it.”
Koskinen also said that he is “not aware” of any Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into his slowness in handing over Lerner’s emails. DOJ recently pledged to look into Koskinen’s conduct.
Koskinen spoke about IRS understaffing, budgetary constraints, and wide-ranging IT problems, claiming that “2,000 hard drives have crashed” in his agency in the first six months of 2014. Koskinen called his agency’s email recovery system “arcane” and “archaic.” The commissioner, who previously led Bill Clinton’s President’s Council on Y2K Transition, said that the IRS needs to find a way “to get out of the late 20th century and into at least the first part of the 21st century.”