In today’s hearing, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen insisted that he had been open and honest with Congress about the sudden lack of e-mail data for key figures in the IRS targeting scandal, including Lois Lerner. For instance, in this exchange with Paul Ryan which Noah already featured, Koskinen insists that he told Congress about the issue on Monday — although Ryan points out that the information about the six other purported hard-drive failures only came to light because Congress asked about it after last Friday’s announcement about Lerner’s hard drive:
In another exchange picked up by CNS News between Koskinen and Ways and Means chair Dave Camp, though, it turns out that the IRS managed to let Treasury and the White House know about the gap in the archives long before Congress had to ask for the information. Camp told Koskinen that he’d received a letter from the White House explaining that they knew about the hard drive failure in April, having been informed by the Department of the Treasury. Camp wanted an explanation for why Koskinen failed to inform Congress, where two House committees and one Senate committee had demanded that information ever since May 2013:
“The IRS knew in February, or maybe even in March, and Treasury and the White House knew at least in April — but Congress and the American people didn’t find out until June. Were you purposely not telling us?” House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-Mich.) asked Koskinen. “Were you purposely not revealing this to the American people?”
“No, as I told you…our original thought was to complete the Lois Lerner email production–complete the review of what other custodians (IRS employees) had a problem, and produce a report to you, laying it all out,” Koskinen said.
“So why did the IRS inform the Executive Branch agencies, the White House, the administration, but kept it secret from the Congress, who was conducting an investigation?” Camp asked.
“We were not keeping it a secret,” Koskinen said. “It was our public report to you that has in fact provided you this information, there’s been no attempt to keep it a secret. My position has been, when we provide information, we should provide it completely. If we provide you incomplete information, people sometimes are tempted to leap to the wrong conclusion, not based on any facts, so we thought it would be important to give you the full description–
“It’s okay for the White House and Treasury to leap to a conclusion six weeks before the Congress,” Camp shot back.
Koskinen’s explanation was that he told his parent agency, Treasury, and not the White House directly. He told Camp specifically that “I have no communications with the White House,” and that his regular communications with Treasury included this issue, which then must have been relayed to the White House. Camp expressed disbelief that the IRS Commissioner would have no communications with the White House, but Koskinen insisted that he only reports to Treasury.
This defense raises another question, one that gets more to the heart of whether the White House was involved in the targeting scheme. If Koskinen as IRS Commissioner only reports through Treasury, then what was the IRS’ chief counsel doing in a meeting with President Obama two days before the targeting criteria was changed in April 2012? I raised this issue in my column at The Fiscal Times yesterday:
The closest insinuation between the IRS targeting scandal has been an unusual meeting between the IRS’ chief counsel, William Wilkins, and Obama on April 23, 2012. The chief counsel for the IRS would have no discernible reason for a private meeting with the president; his job would be to brief the IRS commissioner – at the time Douglas Shulman – who met with Obama the very next day.
The day after that, Wilkins sent a revised set of guidelines to Lois Lerner for the tax-exempt unit to use when applying extra scrutiny. To this day, no explanation for this meeting has been made public, even though records show that Wilkins spent hours at the White House with “POTUS” as his host.
Nor was this the first time that Wilkins appears in the targeting narrative. Carter Hull, a retired high-ranking IRS official with 48 years’ experience at the agency, testified that after he approved a Tea Party-related tax-exempt application, it got routed to Wilkins rather than finalized.
After other clashes on approval for these groups, Hull got cut out of the loop in favor of an analyst with less than a year on the job. Hull also described an August 2011 meeting with three of Wilkins’ representatives present in which the extra scrutiny was discussed, a meeting corroborated by the Inspector General report that prompted the exposure of the targeting effort.
Koskinen’s predecessor Douglas Shulman made a number of visits to the White House, too — averaging about one visit every week, mostly during the period when the targeting took place. (The White House later tried to argue that appearances in the visitor log might not be appearances at all, a conundrum which to this day the White House has also not explained.) If Koskinen’s right — and it makes sense organizationally — then we are even more owed an explanation of why the IRS chief counsel met directly with the President two days before modifying the targeting BOLO.