The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday denied that he ordered his staff to destroy thousands of emails sought by Congress in 2014 during its investigation into the IRS targeting scandal.
Unapologetic and defiant two years ago, John Koskinen appeared very subdued and contrite today as he expressed “regret” for making incorrect statements during his testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2014. “Some of my testimony later proved mistaken,” Koskinen conceded. But he insisted that he had testified honestly to the best of his knowledge at the time.
Republicans on the judiciary panel slammed Koskinen for presiding over the destruction of backup tapes that housed Lerner’s emails.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, highlighted the “coincidence” that occurred when documents that had sat untouched for two years disappeared off the tapes shortly after investigators requested copies.
Koskinen faces potential impeachment at the hands of House conservatives over his handling of the IRS targeting probe, particularly over his pledge to provide emails that had already been erased at the time of his testimony.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asked Koskinen about his false statement under oath that “every email has been preserved.”
“What did you mean by every email?” Gowdy asked.
“I meant that every email that the IRS had that I knew of had been preserved,” Koskinen stated. “That was my honest belief.”
“Well why didn’t you say that?” Gowdy pressed.
“Well — If I knew then what I know now, I would have testified differently,” said Koskinen. “But at the time, I testified honestly about what I knew and what I’d been told. Nobody regrets more than I do that in some ways this case has been the case that keeps on giving with more information coming out. I wish that all the information had been put out to begin with,” he added.
“It is always always an option to answer,’I don’t know,'” Gowdy said. “Loretta Lynch has made a living of saying ‘I don’t know.'”
He added, “But you were incredibly definitive. You said nothing had been lost. What did you mean by nothing?”
Koskinen answered: “I meant at that time that I had been advised ‘nothing,’ but you’re exactly right, in retrospect, I would have been better advised to say ‘to the best of my knowledge,’ or ‘on the basis of what I’ve been told’ — which was in fact the basis of my testimony.”
In May 2013, Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner conceded that during the 2010 and 2012 elections, her division subjected conservative groups seeking tax exemptions to excessively harsh examinations, and wrongfully delayed and denied their applications. In many cases, the investigations turned into partisan fishing expeditions and harassment against conservative political activists.
Koskinen joined the agency in December 2013, ostensibly to clean house while congressional investigators focused on Lois Lerner. But she pleaded the Fifth, and retired from the IRS in September of 2013 with a full federal pension.
Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-OH) told Koskinen, “You should’ve been gone a long time ago.”
Jordan, the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has helped lead the effort to impeach Koskinen, who was appointed to lead the IRS in the aftermath of the agency’s 2013 admission that they had unfairly targeted conservative groups. While Koskinen was not at the agency during the initial scandal, Jordan and other conservatives argue he has thwarted their investigation, including by allowing subpoenaed emails to be destroyed.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, said Koskinen failed when he didn’t immediately alert Congress that he had learned the emails had been destroyed. “Arguable, Mr. Koskinen, you made matters worse,” he said.
Koskinen apologized for the delay, but said he wanted to produce as many emails as possible before disclosing that some emails had been destroyed.
“In retrospect, if I had to do it over, I would’ve advised Congress immediately, he said though he said the later disclosure did not delay or change the investigation.”
Chabot, unsatisfied with that answer, blasted Koskinen: “You circled the wagons, you clammed up, you took the 5th, you destroyed evidence and you betrayed the country,” he said. “And most sadly, you got away with it.”