Internal Revenue Service commissioner John Koskinen, who has for years been a major Democratic donor, appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday evening to testify on the targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Here are three key exchanges from the hearing:
3. The IRS commissioner has no idea who told him about Lerner’s emails
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who appears to be incapable of dialing back his frustration with the IRS, spent most of the hearing grilling the unlucky commissioner with pointed questions.
First, Jordan suggested that the IRS' actions regarding the disappearance of emails belonging to disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner, who long ago invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, could amount to obstruction of justice, railing against the agency's continued stonewalling of Congress' investigation.
“[Y]ou knew [about Lerner’s emails] in April and you waited two months to tell this body?” Jordan asked.
“Correct,” Koskinen said.
“We’ve been after this for 13 months,” Jordan continued. “We subpoenaed six months ago for this, you had a hearing on the 26th where everyone went after you and said, ‘We want all the emails,’ and you assured us you’d get them all to us, and then you learned you can’t — and you don’t tell anybody?”
Next, the Ohio congressman demanded to know who first told Koskinen about Lerner’s emails being compromised.
Koskinen said he simply couldn't remember who told him.
“This is ridiculous,” Jordan said during the hearing.
2. The IRS commissioner isn't sure why the agency didn't use its existing backup system to recover Lerner's emails
Mild-mannered Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, pressed the IRS commissioner with pointed questions about why the agency didn't rescue Lerner’s emails by using its existing backup system.
“It's actually a disaster recovery system," Koskinen said, “and it backs up for six months in case the entire system goes down ... That was the rule in 2011. Policy.”
“Why didn't they just go to that six-month tape?” Chaffetz asked.
It’s “a disaster recovery tape that has all of the emails on it, and is a very complicated tape to actually extract emails [from], but I have not seen any emails to explain why they didn't do it. So I — It would be difficult, but I don't know why they didn't do it,” the commissioner replied.
“But you said that the IRS was going to extraordinary lengths to give it to the recovery team, correct?” the Utah congressman said.
“But it's backed up — on tape?”
“For six months, yes.”
“So,” Chaffetz continued, “why didn't you get them off the backup?”
“All I know about that is that the backup tapes are disaster recovery tapes that put everything in one lump,” the commissioner said, “and extracting individual emails out of that is very costly and difficult, and it was not the policy at the time.”
“Did anybody try?” a surprised Chaffetz asked.
“I have no idea or indication that they did,” Koskinen said.
1. The IRS commissioner is pretty sure no laws have been broken despite not being familiar with relevant statutes
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former federal prosecutor, interrogated the IRS commissioner with questions about whether the agency engaged in possible criminal misconduct.
Koskinen maintains that no wrongdoing has taken place at the IRS, but Gowdy wanted to see just how much the IRS commissioner has actually looked into the situation.
“You can shake your head all you want to, Commissioner. You have said today that there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and I’m asking you what criminal statutes you have reviewed to reach that conclusion,” Gowdy said, adding that Koskinen has “no idea” if the IRS has committed any crimes.
Gowdy was also quick to dismiss Koskinen's suggestion that Republicans are trying to tie the White House to the targeting scandal.
“It was Jay Carney that perpetuated the myth that it was two rogue agents in Ohio, it wasn’t any of us. Was that accurate?” Gowdy asked.
“Not that I know of,” Koskinen said.
“So that was inaccurate and that came from the White House. Who said there’s not a smidgen of corruption?”
“My understanding is that was the president,” the commissioner said.
“So that’s Jay Carney and the president both inserting themselves into the IRS scandal,” Gowdy said. “And you want to blame us for bringing the White House into it?”
Koskinen sheepishly denied suggesting that Republicans are trying to make the scandal about the White House.
Bonus: Best Supporting Actor
Choking back raw emotion, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., concluded his role in Monday's hearing by thanking Koskinen for his service to the IRS, to America, to his countrymen, to all people, to the East Coast, to the West Coast, etc., etc.
“I thank you from the depths of my heart,” he said.
Cummings, who is up to his neck in the IRS scandal, railed against the House panel, shouting that multiple hearings on the targeting of conservative groups somehow tarnishes Congress' reputation.
"I appreciate you coming into this institution,” he told Koskinen , “giving it the best you've got, and then having to come in here and go through this hell!”
Cummings' concluding remarks continued in that vein: Full of praise for the IRS, contempt for congressional Republicans and with enough emotion to embarrass the entire cast of a Hallmark movie: