Partisan Debate Rages In IRS Email Scandal

By: Halimah Abdullah (CNN)--
By: Halimah Abdullah (CNN)--
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WASHINGTON (CNN) Republican lawmakers want to know why the IRS didn't know that it might have been able to recover missing emails from a former official's computer -- communication at the center of new questions about the agency's targeting of conservative political groups.

This latest twist in the saga of Lois Lerner's hard drive was a overly contentious point in a not-surprisingly heated congressional hearing on Wednesday on the protracted, partisan controversy.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared for a third time before lawmakers to testify about the agency's role in the targeting scandal, especially Republican interest in the emails that they say are important to their investigation.

Koskinen spent much of his time before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday answering questions about two years worth of emails from Lerner and a half dozen other IRS officials that were presumed unrecoverable when her hard drive crashed.

The exchanges were charged.

"My theory is that you weren't ever going to tell us until we caught you," Rep. Jim Jordan said in referencing an ongoing debate over who knew what when.

"When you find any evidence to support that assertion I'd be happy to see it," Koskinen said.

Republican investigators have said they've discovered that Lerner's hard drive was merely "scratched" and it might have been possible at one point to retrieve information, contradicting Koskinen's previous statements.

Last month, he told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that her hard drive had been recycled and the agency wasn't able to get emails that the Republican leadership of the committee want to see.

Lerner resigned last year from her post as head of the IRS division charged with looking into groups seeking tax-exempt, non-profit status.

Thomas Kane, deputy associate chief counsel at the IRS, told the Oversight Committee last week that there might be backups of some of Lerner's emails.

On Monday, the panel released testimony from another IRS employee who did not rule out the possibility that some information from Lerner's computer might be retrievable.

Democrats have accused Republicans, especially Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, of grandstanding in the midst of a witch hunt.

"Unfortunately you are becoming collateral damage in a fight for the spotlight among two chairmen Rep. Issa and Rep. Camp," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee.

Cummings called the slate of hearings a "taxpayer funded footrace on who can make the first headlines about Lois Lerner's emails."

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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