It was a year ago this week that the IRS “scandal” began to unravel into nothing. After the controversy got off to a tantalizing start in the spring of 2013, we learned on June 24 of last year that the IRS was bipartisan in its “targeting” of tax-exempt groups on both sides. One by one, the allegations fell apart, and it was at that point that most of the political world lost interest and turned their attention to other Republican conspiracy theories.
But the right didn’t want to let this one go. They had such high hopes – and much of the media seemed so eager to play along with the “Nixonian” narrative – that Republicans just couldn’t move on, reality be damned.
And so here we are, a year later, with House GOP lawmakers still uninterested in actual governing, and still preoccupied with a “controversy” that doesn’t exist.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Friday denied that his agency is covering up Lois Lerner’s emails, at one point flatly refusing to apologize to Republicans who accused him of stonewalling their investigation.“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen said at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee.The hearing quickly grew heated, with Republicans audibly gasping when Koskinen said that Lerner’s crashed hard drive – which kept her archived emails – had been “recycled and destroyed,” something the commissioner said was standard procedure.
Republicans are whining pretty loudly – and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) started to lose his cool for no particular reason at today’s hearing – but I suspect they realize how simple this is.
The IRS had six months of archives of Lerner emails, and the agency turned over everything it had. There was nothing that bolstered the broader conspiracy theory. Some emails, from before 2012, were lost due to a computer crash, and everything about that story is entirely plausible.
And yet, there was Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who’s career is ending on a sad and ignominious note, baselessly talking about “cover-ups” and Paul Ryan lecturing the IRS that “nobody believes” the claims that happen to be true.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a presidential administration has told an angry Congress that emails lawmakers wanted to read have been lost due to a technical glitch. Just for kicks, let’s revisit what happened the last time.
Remember this one from 2007?
Millions of White House e-mails may be missing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino acknowledged Friday.“I wouldn’t rule out that there were a potential 5 million e-mails lost,” Perino told reporters.The administration was already facing sharp questions about whether top presidential advisers including Karl Rove improperly used Republican National Committee e-mail that the White House said later disappeared.
The actual number of missing emails, we later learned, turned out to be 22 million.
At issue were a variety of Bush/Cheney scandals, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to politicize federal prosecutions before elections. To that end, the Republican White House failed to comply with subpoenas, claiming the emails had vanished because the administration failed to comply with the Presidential Records Act.
The Bush/Cheney spokesperson at the time, Dana Perino, told reporters at the time, “We screwed up.”
And what, pray tell, did Republicans say back then? Well, it’s a funny story.
A Democratic source passed along some quotes from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) from a February 2008 hearing into the missing White House documents. “I think it’s fair that we recognize that software moves on and that archiving in a digital age is not as easy as it might seem to the public,” he said at the time. Issa added that Democratic complaints about the missing emails were “shameful.”
Again, this is not to say that the two administrations are equivalent, and that’s OK for one to lose emails and not the other. The difference is, there was credible evidence that the Bush White House had engaged in actual wrongdoing, raising the possibility that the missing emails included potentially incriminating evidence, all of which went missing under suspicious circumstances.
In contrast, no one has yet produced any evidence that the IRS “controversy” is real.