Camp Opening Statement: Hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen
Good morning. Over three years ago, this Committee started asking the IRS:
- was it targeting conservatives for their beliefs;
- was it asking groups inappropriate questions; and,
- was it harassing conservative donors.
The IRS assured this Committee, and even testified before Congress, time and time again, that no targeting was occurring.
Then, as we all recall, one year ago, in a signature IRS Friday news dump, then-head of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, Lois Lerner, admitted to the American people that the IRS targeted conservative organizations.
The IRS lied to Congress, and the American people. In fact, this Committee has found that there is ample evidence to suggest the IRS violated the constitutional rights of taxpayers.
As of today, the investigation into the IRS’s intentional, organized targeting of Americans for their beliefs has been ongoing for over a year. What we have found so far is outrageous.
The IRS spent over three years responding to top Democrat complaints and calls to action to stop all activities of conservative groups. The IRS in Washington, DC took their marching orders and subjected Americans to harassment – going so far as to question the content of their prayers and their political beliefs – while subjecting them to audits and leaking their personal taxpayer information.
When the scandal first broke out, the President vowed that his Administration would work “hand in hand with Congress to get this thing fixed.”
And this Spring, Commissioner Koskinen, you said your goal was to “find problems quickly, fix them promptly, make sure they stay fixed, and be transparent about the entire process.”
Well, since my time in Congress, I have never seen an IRS so broken. Late last Friday, the IRS admitted to Congress that the Agency has “lost” over 2 years worth of Lois Lerner emails – and blamed the loss on a computer crash.
My Committee staff later learned in an interview that it wasn’t only Ms. Lerner’s emails, but the emails of six other individuals relevant to this investigation, including the former Acting-Commissioner’s chief of staff.
And, just two days ago, we found out that the IRS and White House have known for MONTHS and kept it secret from Congress.
This is not the most open and transparent Administration the President promised. This is about as far as you can get from getting “this thing fixed.”
Now, what does this really mean? It means, if the IRS’s claim that Ms. Lerner’s hard drive is really unrecoverable, the public will never know the full extent of the abuse of Americans for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Let me give you an example. Ms. Lerner told TIGTA investigators that she first learned about the Tea Party targeting in July 2011. That wasn’t true. In February 2011, Ms. Lerner told subordinates by email – “Tea Party Matter Dangerous” and discussed ways to deny the applications.
We only have this email because it came from another employee’s inbox. Had Ms. Lerner emailed this to the Treasury Department or Justice, for example, it would be gone forever according to the IRS.
We are missing a huge piece of the puzzle. The years between 2009 and 2011 are the very peak of when the IRS organized and implemented its targeting scheme. How convenient for the IRS and the Administration.
I find it hard to believe, and I don’t believe that the IRS went through every possible exercise to recover these documents. We are missing the emails of seven IRS officials and during periods critical to this investigation. How is this possible?
Making matters worse, the IRS kept all this a secret from the public for months while quickly informing political staff in the Administration. After all the obstruction, I fear this Congress and the American people cannot take the IRS at its word.
One thing is for certain, you can blame it on a technical glitch, but it is not a technical glitch to mislead the American people.
You say that you have “lost” the emails, but what you have lost is all credibility.
The IRS is in charge of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ information, and you are now saying that your technology system was so poor, that years worth of emails are forever unrecoverable. How does that put anyone at ease? How far would the excuse of “I lost it” get with the IRS for an average American, trying to file their yearly taxes, who may have lost a few receipts?
Oddly enough, this seems a satisfactory answer for the Attorney General. As far as I can tell, this Administration has done nothing to investigate what truly happened notwithstanding this Committee sending the Department of Justice a detailed referral letter of nearly one hundred pages. They have repeatedly tried to sweep this under a rug and claim no wrongdoing without ever looking for the facts.
The American people have no reason to trust the IRS or, frankly, the Administration on this issue. To wait years to reveal the fact the IRS was targeting the American people, and then wait months to reveal that you are conveniently missing years of documents…well, it is no wonder I have heard the word “cover-up” thrown about a lot this week.
The time for denials, delays, obstruction and attempts to blow this off as a “phony scandal” are over. This Committee is fed up and we expect some answers, from not only the IRS, but the whole Administration. It is time we restore the American people’s trust in their government, but I fear with recent events, that may not be possible.