By Bernie Becker - 06/18/14 06:34 PM EDT
The White House said Wednesday that it found no direct email conversations between former IRS official Lois Lerner and White House officials, as it tried to tamp down fresh Republican ire on the tax agency.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the email search covered from 2009 to mid-2011, when Lerner’s computer crashed. The Internal Revenue Service says that crash has left it unable to reproduce an unknowable number of Lerner’s emails from that two-plus year span.
Carney did say that somebody else emailed both Lerner and White House officials on three separate occasions. Two of those emails were seeking tax assistance, and the third was spam. Carney said all had been handed over to Congress.
Carney’s statements came as the White House and Democrats have tried to rebut GOP charges that Lerner’s lost emails amount to a cover-up, and as the email flap has added new intensity to the 13-month-long IRS investigation sparked by Lerner’s admission that the agency improperly scrutinized Tea Party groups.
Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said this week that the computer crash was unfortunate, but that “every equipment failure is not a conspiracy.”
John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, is expected to receive sharp questions about his agency’s inability to recover all of Lerner’s emails in upcoming appearances before Congress. Koskinen first appears before the Ways and Means panel on Friday.
Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), suggested that the Obama administration lean on other agencies to do a similar search.
“Nearly a year ago, we asked this Administration for documents. They have obstructed and delayed at every step,” Swinehart said in a statement.
“They now need to lean on all agencies to do an immediate search for Lerner documents and produce them to Congress — especially DOJ and Treasury. Bottom line — we do not have all the documents we requested.”
Camp and Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.), a senior Ways and Means member, also say the IRS’s email problems are more widespread than originally thought. The two Republicans say the IRS can’t reproduce all emails for six other agency officials, including the chief of staff to Steven Miller, the former acting commissioner pushed out by President Obama.
Both Camp and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have said they want the IRS to essentially prove that Lerner’s emails can’t be found. Issa has subpoenaed Lerner’s hard drive, and Camp says he wants more information on where Lerner’s computer is and who examined it when it crashed.
The IRS says it was able to reproduce about 24,000 emails involving Lerner from 2009 to 2011 using other employee accounts. The agency caps the amount of emails that staffers can keep in their inboxes, allowing the employee to decide which emails should be archived on their hard drives.
But until last year, the IRS also only kept six months' worth of back-ups for emails, which they say left them unable to reproduce Lerner’s archived emails after the computer crash.