Archivist faults U.S. IRS over missing emails in Tea Party inquiry

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 24, 2014 6:51pm EDT

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) counsel Jennifer O'Connor (L-R), currently of the White House Counsel's Office, Archivist of the U.S. David Ferriero and Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government Paul Wester testify about e-mails of former IRS official Lois Lerner during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington June 24, 2014.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) counsel Jennifer O'Connor (L-R), currently of the White House Counsel's Office, Archivist of the U.S. David Ferriero and Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government Paul Wester testify about e-mails of former IRS official Lois Lerner during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington June 24, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service was criticized by the government's chief archivist on Tuesday over emails that the tax agency has lost, the latest focus of a Republican inquiry into past IRS treatment of conservative groups.

U.S. Archivist David Ferriero told lawmakers at a hearing that the IRS did not inform his agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as required by law, when it discovered that a former senior IRS official's computer crash had wiped out some of her emails.

"When an agency becomes aware of an incident of unauthorized destruction, they must report the incident to us," he said, adding that the Archivist's office learned of the lost emails through a letter from the IRS to lawmakers. NARA has a government-wide mandate to keep track of documents.

Ferriero stopped short of broader accusations, while Democrats blasted Representative Darrell Issa, who chaired the hearing, for his handling of it and for issuing a subpoena on Monday compelling a second witness to appear.

That witness, Jennifer O'Connor, a lawyer who has worked at the White House for a month, worked at the IRS from May to November 2013, helping gather material sought by Issa and other investigators.

O'Connor, who was seated alongside Ferriero, shed no meaningful new light on the loss of the emails, or on the original focus of Issa's probe -- extra scrutiny applied by the IRS from March 2010 to May 2012 to applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups.

Republicans have been investigating this IRS practice since it burst into view in May 2013. That was when Lois Lerner, a former agency official, publicly apologized for it at a conference.

Her unexpected statement triggered the worst crisis at the IRS in years, with Republicans accusing the agency of singling out conservative groups, some aligned with the Tea Party, for unfair treatment. Lerner retired from the IRS in September.

The so-called Tea Party targeting affair had faded from view until last week when the IRS acknowledged losing some of Lerner's emails, which Republicans want for review.

Democrats on Tuesday said the loss of the emails dating from January 2009 to April 2011 was worth investigating, but they accused Issa of jumping to conclusions with little evidence and abusing his power to compel witnesses to appear before him.

At the hearing, Issa asked O'Connor a question. He then said, "Just yes or no, please. You're a hostile witness."

She replied, "I am not a hostile witness."

Issa said, "Yes you are." Later he said he had misspoken and said O'Connor was a "non-cooperative witness."

Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel, said O'Connor left the IRS before the missing emails problem was understood.

"So why is she here?" Cummings asked. "It's because of where she works now. Today Ms. O'Connor will join the ranks of dozens of other officials who have been hauled up here" by Republicans seeking to link the IRS's conduct to the White House.

He said no witness has made such a link. "Issuing a subpoena to a White House lawyer does not change that," he said.

(Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Comments (2)
TheNewWorld wrote:
Hopefully we get a Republican back in the White House in 2016. At least then the media and low brow Democrat supporters will start caring about the out of control government once again.

Jun 24, 2014 11:55pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Timbuk3 wrote:
Sure, because when the GOP was in the white house, they never lost emails, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_White_House_email_controversy

except for about 22 millions emails partially stored on off-the-record servers and domains.

Not saying the IRS is in the clear, funny how a $30k worker has a backup hard drive running every day to back up their work but the head of the IRS does not. All we need is for the GOP to decide to fund back up hard drives for the IRS, that ought to be easy enough.

This is all part of the 1% GOP scam to starve the IRS of resources so that they cannot enforce the tax code.

Operations that are clearly political but claim to be tax exempt public service groups should be audited, as they were, and I see no crime in that. Too many shady groups are trying to skirt the tax and disclosure laws to fix political contests, we need more audits, not less.

Jun 25, 2014 12:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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