By Bernie Becker - 07/16/14 06:55 PM EDT
A top Justice Department official says that his agency is investigating former IRS official Lois Lerner’s missing emails, as part of their broader criminal inquiry into the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups.
“I can, however, tell you that the investigation includes investigating the circumstances of the lost emails from Ms. Lerner’s computer,” Cole said in the testimony, which was released by the House Oversight Committee.
“While I know you are frustrated by the fact that I cannot at this time disclose any specifics about the investigation, I do pledge to you that when our investigation is completed, we will provide Congress with detailed information about the facts we uncovered and the conclusions we reached in this matter,” Cole added.
In fact, congressional Republicans have said they’re quite frustrated with the Obama administration’s handling of the IRS investigation, to the point of repeatedly calling on Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderRacial undercurrents inflame Uber fight over background checks Chaffetz seeks to hold Obama official in contempt over water rule Eric Holder goes to bat for Uber MORE to appoint a special prosecutor.
Republicans have complained that the Justice attorney in charge of the investigation has given thousands of dollars to President Obama, and that the department appears to have done little with a criminal referral against Lerner from the House.
Lerner, the central figure in the IRS investigation, has also freely talked to Justice officials, while declining twice to testify before the House Oversight panel.
Lerner’s lawyer, Bill Taylor of Zuckerman Spaeder, says that’s because he believes the Justice Department isn’t on a witch hunt against his client. The House held Lerner in contempt of Congress this year after the GOP ruled that she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by proclaiming her innocence in an opening statement.
“The Department of Justice investigation is a sham,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee holding Thursday’s hearing, said this year. “It is a non-existent investigation.”
John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, told a separate Oversight subcommittee last week that he hadn’t personally talked with either the FBI or the Justice Department about Lerner’s missing emails, and that he didn’t know if anyone the agency had discussed the matter with criminal investigators.
The GOP’s investigation into the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status has gotten new life from the agency’s acknowledgement that it can’t reproduce all of Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2011.
In recent weeks, Republicans cited newly released documents in which Lerner warned colleagues to be careful about what they write in emails, because of potential interest from lawmakers.
Congress and the Justice Department aren’t the only ones examining the missing emails, either.
Last week, two federal judges also ordered the IRS to report back, under oath, on what happened to Lerner’s emails.
Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, which outlined the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups last year, is also looking into the emails. Koskinen told lawmakers last month that the inspector general could report back within weeks.
Lerner, who once headed an IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, launched the Tea Party controversy last year by apologizing for the agency’s actions.
The IRS has chalked up Lerner’s lost emails to her hard drive crashing in the middle of 2011. IRS policy at the time was to recycle tapes backing up emails every six months, while also limiting the number of emails a staffer could keep in their inbox.
Democrats have said numerous GOP investigations, over more than a year, have yet to find any proof of political motivation behind the IRS scrutiny, or that anyone outside the agency was involved.