IRS chief: Agency does help staffers with interviews

The IRS commissioner told lawmakers Thursday that the agency does offer limited assistance to staffers getting interviewed about the agency’s Tea Party controversy, revising testimony from the previous day.

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John Koskinen had told lawmakers Wednesday that the IRS doesn’t talk to employees who are going to sit for interviews with congressional investigators.

But on Thursday, Koskinen said that’s not quite the case. Koskinen testified before the House Oversight panel on Wednesday for the third time in a month, after the IRS’s admission that a hard drive crash left them unable to recover all of former agency official Lois Lerner’s emails breathed new life into the controversy.

“Any employee who wants assistance in preparing for transcribed interviews may receive assistance from the Office of Chief Counsel,” Koskinen wrote to Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), the top lawmakers on the House Oversight subcommittee he testified before on Wednesday.

“This is often the case when the employee does not have their own attorney,” Koskinen added.

That assistance, Koskinen said, can include explaining how the logistics of the transcribed interviews with investigators and allowing employees to take another look at important documents. IRS lawyers have also accompanied staffers to interviews.

Oversight aides said that Koskinen’s letter was the first unprompted letter of this kind they’ve received from the commissioner.

It comes as GOP lawmakers have hammered Koskinen in recent weeks, with Jordan even suggesting Wednesday that the IRS would have never told Congress about the missing emails unless their hand was forced.

Republicans have also said new information raises questions about the IRS’s own inquiries into the missing emails – including when top agency officials knew it couldn’t find them, whether data could have been recovered from Lerner’s hard drive, and whether it still could be recovered from back-up tapes thought to be recycled.

Koskinen has said the IRS is currently deferring to an inspector general investigation into the missing emails. Democrats say the GOP is trying to find a scandal where none exists, and have cherry-picked quotes from interviews to make their case.