Watchdog: Lerner report by end of month

Watchdog: Lerner report by end of month
© Greg Nash

A federal watchdog investigating the missing Lois Lerner emails said Tuesday he expects to give lawmakers a final report by the end of the month. 

J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, said at a Senate Finance hearing that his office conducted almost 150 interviews as it sought to track down the former IRS official's emails.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senior lawmakers have said they needed the inspector general’s report on the thousands of Lerner's emails before finishing their investigation into the agency’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups. The IRS said last year that Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, leaving them unable to reproduce an untold number of her emails over more than a two-year span.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer Trump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify MORE (R-Utah) told George that he hoped to have the inspector general’s report by the middle of this month.

George, while insisting his office would do his best, also stressed that he needed to be extra careful with an investigation this sensitive. He said the office still had to interview some people important to the case.

“As you can imagine, with each interview, that leads to more information that needs to be tracked down,” George told Hatch. “Given the nature of this matter, we need to be as thorough as possible, and we’re endeavoring to do just that.”

Lerner, who led the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, is the central figure in the Tea Party controversy. House Republicans voted last spring to hold Lerner, who retired from the IRS in 2013, in contempt of Congress. 

But the Justice Department declined to move on the contempt charge, and Republicans have complained loudly about the Obama administration’s own criminal investigation into the IRS.

John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, told lawmakers last year that tapes backing up Lerner’s emails had been recycled. But George’s office told lawmakers in April that it had found roughly 6,400 emails either to or from Lerner between 2004 and 2013 that it didn’t think the IRS had given to Congress. 

GOP lawmakers have said little so far about what was in those emails, though one Republican aide has said there appeared to be little new in the documents.

Hatch told reporters Tuesday that he believed the Finance Committee would be able to quickly wrap up its own bipartisan investigation into the IRS once it got the inspector general’s report.

“The entire delay has been we kept getting more and more emails, after they said that was it,” said Hatch, who had previously stated that he wanted to get his committee’s report out this month. “We’ve had to go through them all.”

Hatch and committee aides had previously said that the Finance report was all but done when the panel found out last year that the IRS couldn’t recover some of Lerner’s emails.

But Finance aides have declined to put out a timeline for when their report could be released, noting that committee investigators will have to square what the inspector general uncovered with their own findings.

Congressional Republicans have long been frustrated at the pace of the IRS investigation, which kicked off more than two years ago after Lerner acknowledged the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups by answering a planted question at a legal conference.

The Senate Finance panel is one of just several congressional committees to investigate the IRS’s Tea Party controversy. 

On the House side, Republicans have focused more in recent weeks on the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the IRS.

The Justice Department hasn’t acted on a criminal referral from House Republicans last year, which said Lerner could be guilty of crimes punishable by up to 11 years in jail.

House Republicans urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to pursue those charges last week, after consistently blasting her predecessor Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderCongress and contempt: What you need to know Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE’s handling of the case.

This story was last updated at 3:02 p.m.