Judge threatens IRS chief with contempt

Judge threatens IRS chief with contempt

A federal judge threatened on Wednesday to hold IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in contempt of court, after the agency failed to follow through on an order to produce emails from Lois Lerner.

Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., had ordered the IRS on July 1 to each week give documents related to Lerner, a former IRS official, to Judicial Watch, a conservative group suing the agency.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the IRS did not comply, nor did it ask the court to reconsider the idea, leaving Sullivan fuming. 

"If there is further noncompliance, I will haul into court the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service to show cause why that person should not be personally held in contempt of court," Sullivan told Geoffrey Klimas, the Justice Department lawyer representing the IRS, according to a transcript on Judicial Watch's website.

Sullivan, who once held government lawyers prosecuting former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in contempt, also warned Klimas that his record proved he'd be willing to take that step.

"You're in a very difficult position, but you're walking out of court with your colleagues," Sullivan told Klimas. "That might not always be the case, O.K.?"

The court hearing marked the second time in three days that Koskinen's received a threat from another government branch. On Monday, a group of 21 House Republicans called on President Obama to fire Koskinen, accusing him of misleading Congress about the search for Lerner's missing emails. The GOP lawmakers said they'd already begun contempt of Congress proceedings against Koskinen, and left open the possibility of impeaching him. 

Judicial Watch has sued the IRS for all documents relating to the IRS's improper scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status — a case in which Lerner is the central figure. Four weeks ago, Sullivan ordered the IRS to give Judicial Watch a weekly shipment from the roughly 1,800 newly recovered emails to and from Lerner.

The IRS said last year that it couldn't find an untold number of Lerner's emails over about a two-year span because her hard drive crashed in 2011. Koskinen said at the time that the had destroyed Lerner's hard drive and recycled tapes that would have backed up the emails. 

But a Treasury inspector general investigation recently uncovered hundreds of emails that had not been given to Congress or the executive branch.

Klimas told Sullivan on Wednesday that the IRS believed the judge's order to give weekly reports to Judicial Watch was too time-consuming and that the agency preferred a monthly delivery of documents. 

But the government never formally asked Sullivan to reconsider, saying it was waiting on the judge to follow up his oral order with a written one.

"I think the government's position is clearly indefensible," Sullivan retorted. "It's ridiculous. It's absurd."