Elections | Nation

Interpreting The IRS Emails, Washington-Style

NPR | July 9, 2014 4:25 p.m.

Contributed By:

Peter Overby

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., grills Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen as he testifies June 23 before the House Oversight Committee.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., grills Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen as he testifies June 23 before the House Oversight Committee.

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Here’s the biggest recurring theme in the IRS controversy — the one about alleged targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Throughout the year-long investigation, congressional Republicans and Democrats not only highlight their own evidence, they also take the same evidence and draw diametrically opposed conclusions.

The latest example came Wednesday afternoon, at a subcommittee hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Officially, the subject was a separate IRS issue. But lawmakers couldn’t help veering off into a row over Lois Lerner’s missing emails.

Lerner was head of the IRS exempt organizations division, overseeing the tax-exempt applications. Her computer hard drive crashed in 2011, destroying many months of archived emails. The committee members all seem convinced Lerner is culpable for something. Democrats and a Treasury Department inspector general call it gross mismanagement. Republicans say it’s political scheming and destroying evidence.

On Wednesday, committee Republicans asked IRS Commissioner John Koskinen about a new discovery: It turns out the IRS has an internal messaging system, called OCS.

In a chain of emails, shown to Koskinen at the hearing, Lois Lerner asks if OCS messages are searchable, and she gets an answer.

To Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the emails show Lerner was trying to cover her tracks. He pointed to sentence 1 of the second email, that “OCS messages are not set to automatically save.”

Jordan’s interpretation: “Miss Lerner says, ‘Wow. I know I’ve gotten rid of the emails, when the computer crashed two years earlier. But I better double-check on this intra-office, instant messaging capability we have here at the Internal Revenue Service.’ And she says ‘Perfect’ when she learns that it’s not traceable, not trackable, not stored.”

But Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.,said Lerner’s “Perfect” comment concerned the third paragraph, where she was advised to treat OCS messages as potentially searchable.

Jordan burst out, “That is the most ridiculous interpretation – there is no one with any common sense that would reach that conclusion my colleague reached. No one.”

A long way to a short question.

Read the emails. What do you think?

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