WASHINGTON -- The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service refused to apologize to Congress Friday for losing e-mails related to its targeting of conservative groups, saying it's still attempting to recover the data and it's too soon to know how many e-mails are missing.
"I don't think an apology is owed," Commissioner John Koskinen told the House Ways and Means Committee. "Every e-mail has been preserved that we have."
In his most contentious hearing since becoming commissioner six months ago, Koskinen testified about efforts the IRS has made to recover e-mails that were lost when Lois Lerner's computer hard drive crashed in 2011. Lerner is the former director of the Exempt Organizations office that held up the tax exemption applications of conservative groups from February 2010 through the 2012 election.
Ways and Means Chairman David Camp, R-Mich., pressed Koskinen on why he didn't notify Congress about the problem with Lerner's e-mails when he first found out about it in February.
"You can blame it on a technical glitch, but it is not a technical glitch to mislead the American people," Camp said. "You say that you have 'lost' the emails, but what you have lost is all credibility."
Camp particularly wanted to know why the White House knew of the e-mail issues in April. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston told Congress in a letter this week that the White House learned of the missing e-mails in April -- two months before the IRS told Congress. He also said there's no record of the White House communicating with Lerner during that period.
"There's been no attempt to keep it a secret," Koskinen said. "My position has been, when we provide information, we provide it completely."
The hearing produced no insight about how many e-mails were lost and what they might have contained.
But it did provide moments of absurdity. In one line of questioning designed to mock GOP conspiracy theories, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, asked if Lerner had been to the Benghazi, whether she was responsible for UFOs, or if she had custody of Obama's original birth certificate.
In response to a question from Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, Koskinen testified that he doesn't know whether the National Security Agency was monitoring Lerner's e-mails as part of its electronic surveillance program. "If the NSA was monitoring all our e-mails and collecting them and saving them someplace, then they might be there," the IRS chief said.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said there was no conspiracy behind the computer crash, but rather an e-mail system that was "entirely underfunded and wholly deficient."
"Congressional Republicans are so determined to find a needle in a haystack that they seek desperately to add to the haystack even though no needle has been discovered."