Less than an hour before Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen was scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Monday in a rare night hearing, the committee chairman announced a subpoena to compel testimony from a White House lawyer.
In an early evening statement, Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the subpoena followed a letter sent Monday by White House Council Neil Eggleston declining to make lawyer Jennifer O'Connor available for a follow-up hearing Tuesday.
The subpoena creates a legal obligation for O'Connor to appear at the Tuesday morning hearing.
"A year ago, when news broke that the IRS had targeted Americans because of their political beliefs, President Obama pledged, 'we will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role.' I'm disappointed that one year later, the White House has attempted to block this Committee's first request for voluntary cooperation from a White House official," Issa said in his statement.
Before becoming a deputy White House counsel, O'Connor worked in the IRS legal department and was involved in the response to congressional inquiries about what the IRS acknowledged last year was inappropriate targeting of some conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Issa and Republican lawmakers want to know why IRS attorneys failed to alert Congress about the missing emails of a key protagonist in the yearlong scandal.
The answer matters because the IRS acknowledged earlier in June that a computer hard drive belonging to Lois Lerner failed and that the agency has lost some of her emails spanning a period from 2009 to 2011. She headed the Exempt Organizations division at a time when some tea party groups were subjected to extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempts status.
Even before IRS chief Koskinen appeared Monday night, Issa had made public 15 questions he wanted answered immediately. Koskinen was roughed up at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee last week, in which he said that by the end of June Congress will have been given 67,000 emails related to Lerner.
Issa's new list of questions included the names of all IRS employees who worked on Lerner's hard drive, all documentation of repair requests and so-called trouble tickets and details about the lab used by the IRS criminal division to try to recover lost emails.
Democrats argue that Koskinen has already testified that it was Lerner who sought to recover her lost emails, and pushed the matter up the ladder in hopes of recovering her lost emails. They also complain that Republicans are misleading the public when saying that Lerner's hard drive crashed weeks after Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., wrote to ask about intimidation of conservative groups.
Camp's letter, they note, dealt with gift-tax audits of and not the screening of applications for tax-exempt status.
Apart from O'Connor's subpoena-compelled testimony Tuesday, Issa has also called David Ferreiro, archivist of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, to discuss how government stores, among other things, email records like those lost at the IRS.
The IRS has said some of Lerner's emails were stored on tapes that were erased at six-month intervals. That routine practice ended last year after the scandal came to light.
By Kevin G. Hall
McClatchy Washington Bureau