In his first Congressional appearance since news of the lost Lois Lerner emails, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was alternately attacked by Republicans and praised by Democrats who apologized to him for his treatment and called the investigation an "endless conspiracy theory" by Republicans.
Under oath before the House Ways and Means Committee, Koskinen restated what Congress had been told privately: that emails of Lerner and six other relevant IRS officials have been irretrievably lost because of crashes of their hard drives and servers.
Koskinen defended not telling Congress in numerous previous appearances about the email losses. In those appearances, he assured Congress that all the Lerner emails would be provided. Koskinen says his testimony at that time wasn't dishonest because he was going to provide all the emails "we had." He also said that he wasn't fully aware of the crashed hard drives and the status of the lost emails until April or May.
Koskinen argued that he has been honest and transparent and that the fuss today is "a result of us providing you a full accounting."
"Why should anyone believe you?" asked Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
"I want to apologize to you for the way you've been treated this morning," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) to Koskinen. Lewis then offered Koskinen time to say whatever he wanted.
Koskinen used the time to tell the committee that the IRS has not lost any emails since the start of the Congressional investigation; that they'd been lost prior to that. He also said that the IRS will provide Congress all of the Lois Lerner emails left by the end of June.
"We have 60-70,000 [Lerner emails]. Since the crash, we have located 24,000 that she sent or received," said Koskinen.
He added that there was no attempt on Lerner's part to destroy any email and that she worked very hard to try to retrieve them.
"This is unbelievable," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said of the multiple apologies Democrats provided to Koskinen. "The apology that should be given is to the American people, not to the government agency that is abusing its power." Of Koskinen's testimony, Ryan said "Nobody believes it."
Koskinen testified that he did not know if the other six hard drives that crashed have been destroyed. He said one of the crashes occurred in February.
Koskinen says, in all, Congress will be given 67,000 Lois Lerner emails.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) was among the Democrats accusing Republicans of pursuing unfounded conspiracy theories. He said that every element is present "except Oliver Stone."
Koskinen told Neal there was no cover up.
"There was not a conspiracy?" asked Neal.
"That’s my understanding," said Koskinen.
"There is no smoking gun linking the administration to Lois Lerner?"
"That is also my understanding," answered Koskinen.
Neal also said that the hearing should be spending time talking about Koskinen's successes at the tax agency.
"This is maybe not a hearing but an inquisition," Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said as he apologized to Koskinen for the Republican questioning and counseled him on how to get his side of the story told.
"Take a breath," said Becerra.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) asked Koskinen whether he'd ever been in Benghazi, had President Obama's birth certificate or been to Area 51. When Koskinen answered in the negative, Doggett said Republicans had an "obsession with conspiracy."
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told Koskinen that the idea the emails are lost is "a case that even a White Knight can't make." He showed slides of an unrelated hard drive that appeared to be entirely destroyed in a fire and said that 100% of the material on that computer was later recovered.
In a series of disclosures that began last Friday, the IRS notified Congress that it has “lost” two years worth of key emails to and from IRS manager Lois Lerner, a key figure in the tax agency’s alleged targeting of conservative groups. The loss was attributed to a computer crash.
Then, the IRS reportedly told Congress that hard drives from six more IRS employees involved in the investigation had crashed. They include Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller. Miller has been fired. Today, Koskinen said he's been informed that none of Flax's emails were destroyed. However, he said that he doesn't know where the hard drives are or the status of other documents on the machines.
The IRS told Congress that Lerner’s hard drive can never be produced for inspection because it has been “recycled.” Koskinen testified that he doesn't know the date that the recycling occurred.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) criticized and blamed in part budget cuts that Congress has imposed in recent years on the $11 billion dollars tax agency.