It’s been two years now since the Congressional Oversight Committee subpoenaed the Lois Lerner emails among over 500 documents over a partisan scandal at the Internal Revenue Service. At the time, the IRS was accused of unfairly targeting conservative groups for political reasons — specifically Tea Party affiliated organizations. The requested documents contained details of internal communications within the IRS, which investigators thought would help illustrate the thought process behind some of the actions taken within the department.
Recently there was an update on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s efforts to look into inappropriate or corrupt activity and gain access to necessary documents and information to properly look into the issue.
Some background and the journey of Louis Lerner emails
When the subject of a potential IRS scandal came up, president Barack Obama was clear cut and severe in discussing the issue. “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it,” he said. “They have to be held fully accountable.” This was a statement quoted by Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) in his opening statement, going on to point out that the president has since reversed this sentiment, saying there has been “not even a smidgen of corruption.” However delving into the evidence of the case has presented a great many problems so far, and this is concerning to those tasked with the investigation.
The TIGTA inquiry began in 2012 officially. In 2013, Louis Lerner refused to testify before the House Oversight Committee based on the Fifth Amendment. Lerner was put on administrative leave, and later that year Congress considered cutting the IRS’s budget in retaliation. In 2014, intentions to file contempt charges were announced. Along the way, a report on Lerner’s involvement was published, followed by her retirement, and an IRS counter-argument given on the amount of money being spent on the investigation — $14 million in April of 2014. Emails were subpoenaed and found missing, or refused for release by the Obama Administration, and some were later reported to have been deleted.
Where are we now? What’s next?
Timothy Camus, the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations went into the status of email search and discovery as it stands today. According to Camus, the hard drives may not have been destroyed as reported, and likely hold emails, including Lerners. But he notes that these would be difficult to find, and if any are damaged, “it could potentially be impossible to recover any usable emails.”
So there may be no foul play in that sense, though there’s a degree of uncertainty. He reports that going forward, technological experts will look into this further with more certainty, and in the mean time the investigation has taken possession of more tapes and is seeing whether they’ve been erased or contain information. With 32,000 emails found from Lerner’s inbox, they’ll be compared to see if any new emails have been recovered while also looking for any other sources where emails can be found.
Is the investigation going anywhere?
But the back and forth of the witness testimony and questioning from members of Congress certainly illustrated the tension now heavily present in proceedings. It was perhaps most tangible in an interchange between Rep. Gerry Connolly (R-Va.) and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George. The two made for a solid example of just how hostile parts of the investigation have become, and just how fine the line between thorough stubbornness and harassment can be.
“Mr. George on February 5, 2014, we filed a complaint against you with the integrity committee,” said Connolly, stating the purpose as having to do with “concerns over the troubling activity of your office under your leadership, publishing incomplete and misleading findings.” He went on to say that on September 17 of 2014 a request was made for certain information on the investigation into George’s own staff and himself, which was not properly responded to. George in turn noted that the document in question would fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI.
“It is my understanding that you or your staff have reached out to the FBI requesting materials that you’ve just cited,” said George. “My understanding is the FBI refused to provide you with that information.” He went on to insist that he had not been given a written request that he waive his privacy right over the requested document. At which point Connolly immediately said that he had a written request at that moment which can be “presented to you right now.” He inisted that the information was one that “we think we’re entitled to it” and “you want a written request, you’ve got it Mr. George,” claiming that further investigation into George would be requested because the document had not been given as asked. George insisted that both he and his organization had been found guiltless, at which point Connolly said he was not aware of this exoneration, demanding, “What standing have you got to advise this committee about how we retrieve or capture documents,” and it spiraled out from there:
George: Well, Mr. Connolly, I’m not going to engage in a debate with you here but there’s certain information that you’re not going to be able to receive access to related to this investigation … Once the investigation is completed you will receive a conclusion … and there are certain committees in congress that do have access to that information, they will receive the new materials, but just as it relates to an investigation of me and my organization, you’re not entitled to certain documents.
Connolly: Oh really? Well, we’ll see about, that won’t we, Mr. George?
George: Your prerogative, sir.
Connolly: Yes, it is.
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