Hatch Demands Answers of IRS on Senate Floor
In Speech on Senate Floor, Utah Senator Says, “It seems, Mr. President, that there is an epidemic of hard drive crashes going on at the IRS and it seems to be particularly focused on individuals relevant to the targeting scandal and the ongoing congressional investigations.”
WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) outlined his communications with the IRS and raised questions regarding lost emails of key IRS employees.
“Our investigation is important. We need to have full and complete account of what went on at the IRS during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. Sadly, it seems that, in order to get such an account, we’re going to need to also delve into what has gone on at the IRS during the months that the agency was supposedly trying to respond to our reasonable document requests. One way or another, I’m going to get to the bottom of this. And, I’m prepared to take any steps that are necessary to do so. We need to get to closure on what the facts are before we can close out the investigation. Otherwise, the conclusions in the investigation would be based on a faulty factual premise,” Hatch said.
Hatch sent a letter earlier today to Commissioner Koskinen demanding the Commissioner clarify questions surrounding the timeline.
Below is the text of Hatch’s full speech delivered on the Senate floor today:
Mr. President, about a year ago, the American people learned that the IRS, one of the most feared and powerful agencies in our government, had engaged in political targeting. Specifically, we learned that the IRS had – by its own admission – singled out individual conservative groups applying for tax exempt status for harassment and extra scrutiny during the run-up to the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Needless to say, the American people were outraged when this news became public.
And, the IRS’s credibility was seriously damaged.
We saw numerous groups and individuals come forward to acknowledge that they had been targeted.
Politicians across the political spectrum – including the President of the United States – condemned these actions and vowed to get to the bottom of it.
In the many months since the targeting scandal was revealed, I have said numerous times that the most important objective for the IRS and its leadership was to repair its reputation with the American people. And, for a while there, it appeared as though the agency was serious about doing that.
Sadly, over the last few days, a new chapter in this scandal has been opened. And, as a result, the IRS’s credibility has taken yet another serious hit.
For more than a year, Mr. President, the Senate Finance Committee has been engaged in a bipartisan investigation into the targeting scandal. And, during most of that time, we were under the impression that the IRS was acting in relative good faith to cooperate with our inquiry.
As of last week, we believed we were close to completing our investigation.
The report was being drafted.
The facts, we believed, were coming together.
Then, in what I thought would be one of the last steps in the investigation, I insisted that we send a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen demanding that he formally certify that the agency had produced all documents that were relevant to our requests.
It was then that we learned that there was an enormous hole in our fact-finding.
On Friday of last week, the IRS informed us that, due to a hard drive crash, it was unable to produce thousands of pages of emails from Lois Lerner, the former Director of Exempt Organizations and one of the central figures – if not THE central figure – in the investigation.
The gap in the emails was from 2009 through April 2011, a pivotal time in the activities under investigation.
You heard that right, Mr. President, a full year after our initial information request, the IRS informed us that a huge chunk of relevant emails was mysteriously gone.
Needless to say, this was disturbing. That’s why Chairman Wyden and I demanded to meet with Commissioner Koskinen on Monday of this week.
Sadly, this meeting produced even more bad news.
The first thing we learned during the course of this meeting was that Ms. Lerner’s emails were not going to be reproduced. The IRS’s redundancy operations were apparently insufficient to ensure that these emails would be saved in the event of a hard-drive crash.
According to Commissioner Koskinen, the IRS only saves emails on its servers for six months.
Can you imagine that, Mr. President? The agency that requires the American people to preserve its documents for three years only saves emails for six months.
The next thing we learned was that officials at the IRS became aware of a gap in Ms. Lerner’s emails as early as February of this year, and that the Commissioner himself was made aware of the hard drive crash about three weeks prior to our meeting.
It was never made clear to us why it took, at the very least, three weeks and a letter from us demanding a signed certification from the Commissioner for IRS to inform the Finance Committee that the emails were missing. As of right now, we still don’t know why the agency failed to inform us immediately that the emails were gone.
The IRS was more willing to share this information with others in the Administration.
Yesterday, we learned that by April, the IRS had already notified Treasury that some of Ms. Lerner’s emails appeared to be missing. We also learned that, in April, Treasury informed the White House of this development.
The IRS has offered no explanation of why they waited two more months to inform Congress – and particularly the Senate Finance Committee, which was performing an active investigation into this very issue. Moreover, we do not know what discussions have taken place since April between the White House, Treasury and the IRS about the lost emails.
That would be bad enough, Mr. President, but it gets worse.
After our meeting on Monday, we were surprised to learn – via a press release from the House Ways and Means Committee – that even more emails relevant to our investigation may be missing.
Apparently, the IRS had informed Ways and Means that it might have lost the emails for six IRS employees, all of whom were covered by the Finance Committee’s document request.
One of these employees is reported to be Nikole Flax, who was the Chief of Staff to former Acting Commissioner Steve Miller. In that role, Ms. Flax helped oversee the processing of tax-exempt applications. From our investigation, we also know that she directly dealt with the White House and the Office of Management and Budget on a number of issues.
It seems, Mr. President, that there is an epidemic of hard drive crashes going on at the IRS and it seems to be particularly focused on individuals relevant to the targeting scandal and the ongoing congressional investigations.
Needless to say, it’s very troubling that even more emails might be missing and may never be recovered.
It’s also troubling that neither Commissioner Koskinen nor his staff felt that they should reveal this information to Chairman Wyden and myself during our long conversation earlier this week.
It’s obvious from the timing of the revelations that people in that room were aware of the additional missing emails. Yet, it didn’t occur to any of them that they should disclose this information to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the only Senate committee with oversight authority over this agency.
Like I said, Mr. President, the Finance Committee was getting close to completing its investigation just last week. And, we were moving forward under the assumption that the IRS had been cooperating.
Now, we have to ask ourselves whether we can trust any of the statements coming out of that agency.
Our investigation is important. We need to have full and complete account of what went on at the IRS during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. Sadly, it seems that, in order to get such an account, we’re going to need to also delve into what has gone on at the IRS during the months that the agency was supposedly trying to respond to our reasonable document requests.
One way or another, I’m going to get to the bottom of this. And, I’m prepared to take any steps that are necessary to do so.
We need to get to closure on what the facts are before we can close out the investigation. Otherwise, the conclusions in the investigation would be based on a faulty factual premise.
Earlier today, I sent a letter to Commissioner Koskinen demanding to know when he knew about the additional missing emails and why the Chairman and I were not informed about them during our meeting on Monday.
Once again, it appears that either the Commissioner or his staff were less than forthcoming in the meeting and someone needs to be held responsible.
This is important. If we can’t trust these agencies to be truthful to congressional leaders, we have serious problems.
This letter is only the first step. More action needs to be taken.
There needs to be an independent review of the fiasco surrounding all of these lost emails.
We need an independent arbiter to determine if the agency’s account of the computer problems is accurate and whether the relevant emails are, in fact, unrecoverable.
We also need a review to determine if there are more missing emails.
Like I said, this review needs to be independent as we apparently can’t trust the IRS to be fully forthcoming on these issues.
This is what we’ll need to get to the bottom of this.
But, sadly, even that won’t be enough.
The problem with these missing emails is that we won’t have any assurances that we’ll ever get a complete picture of what went on. We need to take the necessary steps to find out just what communications these individuals were making during the time in question.
Now, we have received many of these employees’ emails from the IRS because, for obvious reasons, they tended to include the email addresses of other IRS employees. However, what we don’t have are emails sent by these individuals to parties outside the IRS. And, if the computer problems at the agency have indeed made these emails impossible to recover on the IRS’s end, the only way to recover them is to extend the inquiry to agencies outside the IRS.
Communications to agencies like the Treasury Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission are all relevant, as are emails sent to the White House.
I plan to send document requests to all of these parties, asking them to produce any communications they received from the seven IRS employees whose emails have been lost.
Of course, in an ideal world none of this would be necessary. But, we’re not living in an ideal world. Instead, we’re living in world where, apparently, hard drives crash every day and administration officials decide to withhold information from Congressional investigators. As a result, additional steps are necessary in order for the truth to finally come out.
In conclusion, Mr. President, I want to make one thing clear. While I am angered and disappointed by this recent turn of events, I am not the aggrieved party here. That unfortunate distinction belongs to the American people.
Once again, the IRS is one of the most powerful and feared agencies in our government. It’s one that millions of Americans have to deal with on a daily basis.
The American people have a right to expect that this agency will conduct itself in a fair manner, without regard to parties and politics. And, that trust was broken last year when the targeting scandal was made public.
Now, a year later, after all the work we’ve done to hold this agency accountable, that trust has been broken again.
It’s a shame, Mr. President.
But, once again, I’m going to get to the bottom of this one way or another. It’s going to be difficult because it appears that, going forward, we won’t be able to trust anything the IRS says to Congress. That’s why we’re going to have to bring other parties into the inquiry.
This is unfortunate. But, like I said, this is the world we’re living in.
I yield the floor.
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