What the IRS Commissioner Said About Those Lois Lerner Emails Back in March

Friday’s revelation that the IRS “lost” Lois Lerner’s emails in a computer crash came ten months after Congress first requested them and seven months after they were first subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee. But what IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified about the emails at a hearing in March appears to be at odds with his agency’s newer reported claims that the emails are irretrievable.

Under questioning by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on the House Oversight Committee, Koskinen said IRS emails “get taken off and stored in servers.” That was part of the reason, he said, it was so difficult to provide them in a timely fashion.

As of March, the IRS had reportedly given Congress more than 400,000 pages of documents: just not the ones at issue.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen

Other testimony from the hearing:

Koskinen said, at the time, it would be 2015 before the Committee got the documents it subpoenaed. That means he predicted it would take the tax agency a year and a half from the time the material was first requested to provide it.

Koskinen said the IRS uses Microsoft Outlook but that a simple search through a user’s “sent” and “in” boxes would not turn up the emails because “they’re stored somewhere.”

Koskinen indicated that seven months after the request, the agency had not yet begun serious work to turn over Lois Lerner’s emails. But he said, “We can find, and we are in fact searching, we can find Lois Lerner’s emails.” He made no mention of a computer or system “crash.”

Koskinen stated that responding to the subpoena will take “years, not months.”

With seven months having passed since the request and the IRS hadn’t even begun going through Lois Lerner’s emails,  and ten months since the request before the IRS notified Congress that the emails were lost in a computer crash, it helps explain why responding to the subpoena takes “years.”

Hear and read what Koskinen had to say about the Lois Lerner emails in his March testimony. The link and transcript are below.

Read biography of Commissioner Koskinen, former non-executive Chairman of Freddie MacIRS Commissioner John Koskinen

Watch excerpt of the hearing last March in which Chaffetz is questioning Koskinen about the IRS’ non-compliance with the Congressional subpoena to date.

Chaffetz: Do you believe it was duly issued by the House of Representatives?

Koskinen: I’m assuming that. I have no independent basis for determining that.

Chaffetz: The schedule, which is just 8 items: “All communications sent or received by Lois Lerner from Jan. 1, 2009 to Aug. 2, 2013. Is there any ambiguity in your mind? Do you have any doubt as to what that means?

Koskinen: No, if you want to go through all 8 I have no doubt what any of it mean. As noted, some of them mean you’re gonna take months or years to get the information and it’s going to be voluminous…there’s no doubt about it.

Chaffetz: So you have no doubt what it means, you believe it is a duly issued subpoena and you have not complied with it, correct?

Koskinen: There is physically no way anyone could have complied between Feb. 14 and now. We have never said we won’t comply. We have said in fact…

Chaffetz: Well are you? Are you going to comply or not?

Koskinen:  We are complying and I will tell you…

Chaffetz: No, no, no…

Koskinen:  It’ll be next year. You’ll be next year. You’ll be next year you’ll be getting documents.

Chaffetz: Commissioner, what email system do you use there at the IRS?

Koskinen:  What email system?

Chaffetz: Yes. Outlook or…

Koskinen:  Yes we have actually Microsoft I have actually Microsoft…

Chaffetz: So you go on there and you want to find all the items you sent under your name, how long would that take?

Koskinen:  Well it would take awhile because they’re not all on my computer, they’re stored somewhere.

Chaffetz: So, but your I.T. specialist, how long do you think it takes of the 90+ thousand employees there at the IRS, how long would find, to take to find all the emails that included her email address?

Koskinen:  Just Lois Lerner?

Chaffetz: Just Lois Lerner alone. Just Lois Lerner.

Koskinen: Uh it would take awhile.

Chaffetz: Like how long?

Koskinen: Well there are millions of emails…

Chaffetz: Minutes?

Mill…(Chuckles) minutes? I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s minutes.

Chaffetz: I mean, that’s one of the brilliants of the email system is you go in, you check the “sent” box, the “in” box, and you suddenly have all the emails, correct?

Koskinen: Right. They get taken off and stored in servers and you’ve got 90-thousand employees and you’ve got…

Chaffetz: I know but I’m not asking you to search, I’m asking you to find one. You type in her email address…

Koskinen: We can find, and we are in fact searching, we can find Lois Lerner’s emails.

Chaffetz: How long? How long would that take?

Koskinen: I have no idea how long.

Chaffetz: Would it take a day?

Koskinen: I said I have no idea.

Chaffetz: Well I just don’t understand. You have a duly issued subpoena. If you were in the private sector, and somebody was issued a subpoena, and you didn’t comply with it, what would happen to you?

Koskinen: For this subpoena, the court would actually rule that it’s far too broad…

Chaffetz: Oh, so you’re gonna make the determination? You’re gonna make…

Koskinen: You asked the question. Let me answer the question. In a court of law, if you had provided that subpoena, the judge would not enforce it because…

Chaffetz: Wait, wait, wait now, stop, stop, stop right there. So you’re going to be the judge…

Koskinen: I’m not being the judge. I’m just telling you what would happen…

Chaffetz: Yes you are.

Koskinen: You asked me…

Chaffetz: You have a duly issued subpoena. Are you or are you not going to provide this committee the emails as indicated in this subpoena? Yes or no?

Koskinen: We, we are, we’ve never said we wouldn’t…

Chaffetz: I’m asking you yes or no.

Koskinen: We are going to respond to the subpoena…

Chaffetz: No, uh, sir…

Koskinen: Yes, we are going to respond to the subpoena. I’m just telling you that to fully respond to the subpoena, we’re going to be at this for years, not months. That’s the only thing I’d like…

Chaffetz: And I don’t understand that. Just specific to item one: Lois Lerner…

Koskinen: Lois Lerner…

Chaffetz: Are, sir, are you or are you not going to provide this committee all of Lois Lerner’s emails?

Koskinen: We are already starting that…

Chaffetz: Yes or…

Koskinen: Yes, we will do that.

Chaffetz: Yes. And then, by when? When, when, when can we have them?

Koskinen: I can only tell you it’s gonna take me, my group, I asked this question the other day, just to get you the Lois Lerner emails, redacted, because you have to get them redacted, for examinations, appeals, and the…

Chaffetz: No, no, no, no, no wait…

Koskinen: That’s the question…

Chaffetz: Is that what the subpoena says?

Koskinen: Would you like to hear the answer to the question?

Chaffetz: No, I’d like to know if you’re going to fully comply with the subpoena, not your version of the subpoena. The actual subpoena.

Koskinen: You asked me how long it would take to respond to the Lois Lerner emails. I’m explaining to you why it’s gonna take time. Just to respond to the categorization…

Chaffetz: I don’t want you to redact it.

Koskinen: It’s gonna take…

Chaffetz: I don’t want you to take the certain categories that you want. That’s not what this duly issued subpoena says.

Koskinen: I am telling you it will, just to supply the Lois Lerner emails, which we are going to supply, for examinations…

Chaffetz: No. No, no, no, no, no…

Koskinen: Can I answer the question?

Chaffetz: That’s not, no, no sir! When it says “all” emails, why are you qualifying them? Under what authority do you change this subpoena?

Koskinen: I was not qualifying. You were asking how long it was gonna take and I was giving you an example of why it’s gonna take a long time because we’re gonna have to redact out of all of those emails all of the 6103 information. We’re working very hard to get you the Lois Lerner emails. It’s gonna take us several weeks to get you the Lois Lerner emails for examinations, appeals…

Chaffetz: Wait, wait, wait. Why are you giving us for just the, it’d be easier to just give them to us all, right?

Koskinen: Uh no, it’d just take a lot longer because we’d have to redact the rest of them. They’re there, we actually selected those because in a letter from Senate, uh, the Ways and Means Committee also saying they need help, they focused on what they’re looking for is those categories. So, prioritizing, we said we’d provide both case, committees those categories. We’re happy to provide you the rest of them.

(The Gentleman’s time is expired.)

Chaffetz: I’m yielding back but this commissioner has no intention of fully complying with this, with this duly issued subpoena. That’s the case. That’s where both of us on both sides of the aisle need to stand up for the integrity of the House of Representatives. When you have a duly issued subpoena, you comply with it! It’s not optional!

House Oversight Committee details of IRS subpoenaed material

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