TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, November 28, 2014

The IRS Scandal, Day 568

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal:  ‘Lost’ IRS Emails Found: An Investigator Locates What the Tax Agency Claimed Had Vanished:

The Democrats’ midterm shellacking was in part a referendum on competence, which leads, naturally, to the all but unreported news that the IRS never “lost” emails after all. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is pulling off the impossible task of destroying what little credibility that bureaucracy has left.

Treasury Department Inspector General Russell George recently informed Congress that his forensic investigation has turned up as many as 30,000 emails from the account of former IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner—emails the IRS has insisted were destroyed. The emails cover the crucial period from January 2009 through June 2011 when the IRS was ramping up its targeting of conservative nonprofits.

Mr. Koskinen—hired nearly a year ago to clean up the IRS—has been at the center of that delay. In June the IRS buried in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee the bombshell news that nearly two years of Lerner emails were missing because her hard drive had crashed. This malfunction conveniently happened about 10 days after Congress alerted the IRS that it was looking into claims the agency was harassing conservative groups.

It later emerged that Mr. Koskinen had known about these missing emails in April—but hadn’t told Congress. He informed Congress only after a court case revealed the Lerner email record was incomplete.

Mr. Koskinen claimed in June that his agency had done everything humanly possible to recover the pesky documents. ... We can only imagine Mr. Koskinen’s shock in September when the Treasury IG said it had found 760 tapes that might hold Lerner emails. Or his further surprise when it took only a few weeks to identify and extract the specific Lerner documents—out of 250 million backup emails.

And we can only imagine Mr. Koskinen’s apology for his agency’s email failure—since he hasn’t given one. In response to the emails’ miraculous reappearance, the IRS explained: “The IRS welcomes TIGTA’s independent review and expert forensic analysis. Commissioner Koskinen has said for some time he would be pleased if additional Lois Lerner emails from this time frame could be found.”

This is an extraordinary statement, in that it suggests the only way an agency can be held accountable for producing subpoenaed documents is if an outsider tosses the joint. Either the IRS didn’t bother to investigate these tapes or, more alarming, it did and chose not to produce the results.

The IG is turning over the emails to the IRS, which is supposed to redact sensitive tax information before sending them to Congress. Mr. Koskinen needs to end the IRS stonewalling and turn the records over with dispatch without covering up incriminating evidence.

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