Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

'Lost' emails, lost confidence

June 26, 2014

The Hill

"Lost" emails, lost confidence

The First Amendment to the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, "prohibits the making of any law... abridging the freedom of speech." Every American is protected by this inalienable right that ensures that the government cannot attack its citizens for their beliefs.

Yet, one of the most powerful federal agencies, the Internal Revenue Service, did exactly that when they targeted conservative non-profit organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Officials at the IRS have admitted to these actions and Congress has been investigating. Yet, the IRS has refused to provide critical information about the extent of the targeting and who was involved. 

After promising for a year to deliver emails related to how certain conservative groups were targeted and who was involved in the decision making process, the IRS informed Congress last Friday that they cannot locate many of the emails in question prior to 2011 as the result of a computer crash during that year. Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS division that processes applications to determine tax-exempt status, is currently under investigation by three congressional committees, the Justice Department and the IRS inspector general. Her emails are the ones the IRS claims have both been erased and the data is unrecoverable due to the hard drive in question being recycled.

This is completely unacceptable, awfully convenient and quite frankly, I don't buy it. It’s like my son telling his teacher that the dog ate his homework.  Many top computer experts have made a strong case for why and how these emails could be retrieved. It's also beyond questionable that six other staffers involved in this scandal have also had their computers crash and critical evidence was permanently deleted that could inform the American people about what really happened at the IRS.

What's also troubling is the lack of outrage from the media on behalf of the Americans who were bullied by the IRS. President Nixon and those involved in the famous missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape were rightly vilified and accused of a massive cover-up. American taxpayers were targeted and harassed for having political views the Obama administration doesn't agree with. What are we hearing from the main stream media on this issue? Crickets chirping. It's shameful that the media has accepted the "lost email" argument in a technology age where nothing goes away once it hits the Internet. 

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing last week to investigate these claims. Dissatisfied with answers, Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) requested that IRS Commissioner Koskinen provide IT information regarding the “lost” emails of Lois Lerner and the six other personnel involved in targeting conservative organizations.

The American people deserve better than convenient excuses and flimsy attempts to hide what really happened. House Republicans will continue to investigate and determine what happened when Lois Lerner was at the IRS and why Tea Party groups were being targeted by a bullying federal agency.

While President Obama and the IRS continue to stonewall the investigation, House Republicans can and will use one important tool at our disposal - the power of the purse. The House Appropriations Committee has approved a $341 million cut to the IRS budget to limit their ability to target Americans who disagree with them. This is just the beginning. We will continue to do whatever it takes to stop this corrupt agency. We will get answers to end this campaign of harassment and intimidation. The American people and the Constitution deserve no less.

Olson has represented Texas' 22nd Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.