IRS Commissioner John Koskinen faced questions from the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning as part of an impeachment hearing on Capitol Hill. Koskinen is under fire for his agency’s inability to cooperate with an investigation into how the IRS unfairly targeted conservative groups for years. While Koskinen did not manage the agency at the time of the targeting, the IRS has failed to provide important documents and has even destroyed emails belonging to the former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the Internal Revenue Service, Lois Lerner.
Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted how volumes of information crucial in the investigation were destroyed and several subpoenas went unanswered on Koskinen’s watch. He then offered Koskinen the microphone.
The commissioner said he understands the responsibility that comes with his job title and took the position with the hopes of restoring Americans confidence in the IRS and ensure the agency never returns to its unacceptable practices.
He “believes they’ve made progress.” The agency, he said, has been improving operations, created a culture of risk management and is determined to treat taxpayers fairly. They are “working to restore public trust,” he said.
Yet, Koskinen’s forward looking agenda does not overshadow the past. The committee asked the commissioner repeatedly about the destroyed Lerner tapes and how he let it happen.
The agency has also ended its "Be on the Lookout" practice of subjecting certain groups to additional screening before granting 501(c)(4) status.
Goodlatte asked Koskinen what steps he took personally to ensure all documents were preserved after he received a congressional subpoena to protect Lerner's emails.
Koskinen said he met with senior executives and was assured the emails would be saved.
“I was assured that was being done,” he noted.
Apparently the message “didn’t get to people who do the work of destroying emails," Goodlatte said.
“All but two employees on the midnight shift in Spartansburg,” Koskinen responded. “That was a mistake and I took responsibility for it.”
Kate Duvall, a counsel to the commissioner, learned about Lerner’s computer crash and subsequent lost evidence in February of 2014. Then, one month later, over 400 backup tapes were destroyed.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pressed Koskinen about the suspicious timeline.
“What a coincidence, Mr. Koskinen,” Jordan said. “The primary source is gone, then a month later backup tapes are destroyed.”
Koskinen deferred blame, noting that the Inspector General interviewed over 50 witnesses and concluded there was no wrongdoing. He again insisted the mistake occurred in the Spartansburg office.
“The old midnight shift guys in Spartansburg excuse,” Jordan sighed.