IRS Commissioner Says Emails Aren't Official Records, IRS Handbook Disagrees

Posted: Jun 21, 2014 12:01 PM

What were the biggest take-aways from yesterday's Congressional hearings featuring IRS Commissioner John Koskinen?

He said that his agency does not owe Congress any apology whatsoever, risibly citing the fact that the IRS hasn't lost a single email since the current investigation began. "Every email has been preserved that we have," he said. Those emails that they don't have because of supposed irreparable crashes, um, have not been preserved. As a reminder, the IRS says an undetermined number of Lois Lerner's emails between 2009 and spring 2011 were permanently deleted by a hard drive crash. That crash happened to occur ten days after Republicans in Congress first started asking questions about the targeting of conservative groups. IRS officials repeatedly denied that any such targeting was taking place, which wasn't true. They finally admitted to it right before an Inspector General report confirming the wrongful abuse was set to be released. Even then, they blamed the practice on rogue agents in a local office -- which also was not true. Then they tried to claim that liberal groups were also targeted, another gross distortion. Koskinen testified in March that the IRS would fully comply with Congressional subpoenas seeking Lois Lerner's email, a requirement on which they'd dragged their feet for months. The agency didn't decide to mention that many of those emails had "disappeared" until mid-June -- and didn't admit that other relevant officials' emails had vanished until they were asked…this past Monday. That self-evident obfuscation was the jumping off point of Paul Ryan's much-linked rant. Several journalists have noted that Koskinen's timeline about when he and the IRS first learned about the missing emails has shifted in recent days, which isn't suspicious at all. Nevertheless, the IRS' imperious chief bureaucrat would like everyone to know that they shouldn't be expecting any apologies.

Committee Democrats beclowned themselves throughout the session, playing obsequious defense for the IRS, and chasing the discussion down wild rabbit holes -- including multiple invocations of this garbage story. Here's a montage of their lavish praise of the IRS, including embarrassing apologies to Koskinen for being subjected to a difficult hearing. This level of tone-deafness could not go un-remarked upon:

Several Democrats declared that one of the most important lessons in all of this is that the IRS needs more funding, with one member creatively roping in the 2013 government shutdown (which surely had a major impact on the abusive targeting that began in 2010, and Lerner's 2011 hard drive crash). The White House, for its part, derided the entire event as an exercise in "conspiracy" theorizing. Of course.

One of the points we've been raising all week is that the IRS' explanation for the lost emails rests on an admission that they failed to comply with their own internal regulations, which were written to comply with federal law. They say Lerner's hard drive contained the only records of her emails from the missing time period, that it melted down, and that it was then discarded (which they're quick to point out is standard protocol). But it was also required protocol to back up official communications virtually and in hard copy, which the agency obviously failed to do -- if their story holds water, that is. Commissioner Koskinen attempted to defuse this point by asserting that not all IRS emails are technically official records that are subject to retention guidelines. Ed Morrissey pointed to plenty of precedent that suggests otherwise, before unearthing this gem from…the IRS' own manual:

Email messages are official documents and should reflect this perspective. Email communications can be offered as evidence in court and can be legally binding. Before sending an email, you must consider how it reflects on the Service’s image and take into account privacy, records management, and security factors. … The Federal Records Act applies to email records just as it does to records you create using other media. Emails are records when they are: Created or received in the transaction of agency business, Appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function and activities, or Valuable because of the information they contain…

Oops. Does Mr. Koskinen care to revisit his testimony? Lord knows he won't apologize. Oh, and why was the White House made aware of the missing emails weeks before Congressional investigators? On second thought, stop asking questions and thinking critically, conspiracy-minded paranoiacs. I'll leave you with this: