TODAY

– January 27, 2015

IRS head says no laws broken in loss of emails 


(AP) — Republicans in Congress aren't buying the contention by the head of the Internal Revenue Service that he has seen no evidence anyone committed a crime when the agency lost emails that might shed light on the targeting of tea party and other political groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections.

On Tuesday, a House panel will hear from a White House official who once worked at the IRS.

Jennifer O'Connor worked at the IRS from May to November 2013, helping the agency gather documents related to the congressional investigations, said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. O'Connor has since moved to the White House counsel's office.

Issa subpoenaed O'Connor on Monday night after the White House declined his invitation to have her testify. After getting the subpoena, the White House relented.

Issa said he wants to question O'Connor about former IRS official Lois Lerner's lost emails. The IRS said Lerner's computer crashed in 2011, and emails she had archived on the hard drive were lost.

Lerner headed the division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The Oversight Committee is investigating the handling of applications from tea party and other political groups. Congressional investigators want Lerner's emails to see if there is evidence that anyone outside the IRS was involved.

"Before her promotion to the White House, Ms. O'Connor led the response to the congressional targeting inquiry and she is uniquely qualified to explain why attorneys did not focus on and flag Lerner's 'lost' emails at the outset," Issa said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said, "Republicans have been trying desperately — and unsuccessfully — for more than a year to link this scandal to the White House."

David Ferriero, who heads the National Archives and Records Administration, was also scheduled to testify. The National Archives has asked the IRS to investigate the loss of records, and whether any disposal of data was authorized.

On Monday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared at a rare evening hearing before Issa's committee to answer questions about the lost emails. The hearing was contentious, with Koskinen brushing aside accusations that the IRS has obstructed the political group targeting investigations.

"I have the ability to say I have seen no evidence of any crime," Koskinen said.

Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, scoffed at Koskinen's assertion.

"I have always believed that what happened in your agency with Lois Lerner is a crime," Turner said. "I believe that there were others involved. I believe the emails that are missing are the ones that would probably give us an ability to establish that. And I believe that somebody undertook a criminal act in its destruction."

Turner, however, acknowledged he has no evidence to back up his belief.

Koskinen said there was no evidence that Lerner intentionally destroyed the emails. To the contrary, he said the IRS went to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on Lerner's computer, even sending it to the agency's forensic lab.

In 2011, the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen said. He said Lerner's hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed.

The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 period because she had copied in other IRS employees. Overall, the IRS said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013.
The IRS inspector general is investigating the lost emails, Koskinen said.

Lerner, who is now retired from the IRS, has refused to testify at two Oversight Committee hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. In May, the House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.

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Written on 01/26/2015, 12:18 pm by 
JOSH LEDERMAN, JOAN LOWY, Associated Press
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Written on 01/26/2015, 12:16 pm by The Associated Press
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Written on 01/26/2015, 9:59 am by NEDRA PICKLER, 
JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — A small drone flying low to the ground crashed onto the White House grounds before dawn Monday, triggering a major emergency response and raising fresh questions about security at the presidential mansion. Although President Barack Obama was not at home, the security breach prompted a lockdown of the entire complex until officials could examine the drone. The White House later said the drone did not pose a threat. The Secret Service launched an immediate investigation into the origins of the drone, which crashed on the southeast side of the White House grounds just after 3 a.m. Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said officials were also working to identify any suspects and determine what their motive might have been. The device was described as a two-foot-long quadcopter — an unmanned aircraft that is lifted by four propellers. Many small quadcopters are essentially sophisticated toys that can also be useful for commercial operations like aerial photography and inspections. Often weighing only a few pounds, they sell for as little as a few hundred dollars or less, and were popular Christmas gifts last year. The Secret Service said the drone discovered Monday was of the commercially available variety. The president and first lady Michelle Obama are traveling in India and were not present for the incident, but their daughters, Sasha and Malia, may have been at home. White House officials declined to comment on the daughters' whereabouts Monday, but ahead of the president's trip aides had said the daughters would remain in Washington so as not to miss school. "The early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House," said presidential spokesman Josh Earnest. Still, the incident was likely to reinvigorate a long-running public debate about the use of commercial drones in U.S. skies — as well as White House security. At the urging of the drone industry, the Obama administration is on the verge of proposing rules for drone operations that would replace an existing ban on most commercial flights. Although remote-controlled airplanes and related toys have been available for decades, the recent proliferation of inexpensive drones has prompted growing fears about potential collisions with traditional aircraft. Technological advances have also made it easier to equip drones with advanced capabilities such as cameras, raising privacy issues as well as concerns that such devices could carry weapons. White House aides could not recall any similar incidents occurring at the complex.Police, fire and other emergency vehicles swarmed the White House just after the crash, with several clustered near the southeast entrance to the grounds. The White House was dark and the entire perimeter was on lockdown until around 5 a.m., when those who work there were allowed inside. After daylight, more than a dozen Secret Service officers fanned out in a search across the White House lawn as snow began to fall. They peered down in the grass and used flashlights to look through the large bushes that line the driveway on the south side of the mansion. It was not immediately clear that the Secret Service could have done anything to prevent the incident. Yet the episode joins a string of recent security breaches at the White House that have fueled questions about the agency's effectiveness and ability to protect the president. Four high-ranking executives were reassigned this month, and former Director Julia Pierson was forced to resign last year after a Texas man armed with a knife was able to get over a White House fence and run into the executive mansion before being subdued. An independent panel that investigated the agency's leadership and practices after that September incident, and the disclosure of a previously unreported security breach, recommended hiring a new director from outside. That report was the second critical review of the agency responsible for protecting the president. In November, the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Secret Service, released an internal investigation about the fence-scaling incident that found poor training and staffing and a series of missteps led to the breach. Homeland Security investigators found, among other things, that uniformed agents patrolling the White House grounds the night of Sept. 19 mistakenly assumed that thick bushes near the mansion's front door would stop the intruder.___Associated Press writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.
Written on 01/26/2015, 9:56 am by The Associated Press
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Written on 01/26/2015, 12:18 pm by 
JOSH LEDERMAN, JOAN LOWY, Associated Press
(AP) — A small drone flying low to the...
Written on 01/26/2015, 9:59 am by NEDRA PICKLER, 
JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — A small drone flying low to the...