Ways and Means to Treasury: Cough up witness

The head of a powerful congressional committee demanded in a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Wednesday that the agency produce for interview before November elections a department lawyer who allegedly has knowledge about elements of the ongoing Internal Revenue Service scandal.

The Republican chairman of tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee wants his panel’s investigators to interview Treasury counsel Hannah Stott-Bumstead. She’s described as the first Treasury official told that the IRS had lost two years of emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the scandal over inappropriate scrutiny on conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

In a lengthy letter to Lew, Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, demanded the names of all other Treasury officials who learned before Congress did on June 13 that Lerner’s hard drive had crashed and two years of emails were missing. He also asked for the names of the employees that informed the White House, who they informed, on what date and what was discussed.

“Your office is now refusing to make available until after the election the very person that could unlock that mystery,” wrote Camp. “This is completely unacceptable, especially for an Administration that once pledged to be the most open and transparent ever.”

Camp said in the letter that he was informed by Treasury staffers on Oct. 14 that Stott-Bumstead would not be available “until sometime in November.” Camp presumed that “sometime” meant after Nov. 4 mid-term elections for Congress.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has testified repeatedly before two committees in the House of Representatives that his agency did everything possible to recover emails that were presumed lost when Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed. Many of the emails have been recovered through the search of emails belonging to other employees. The top forensics experts at the agency, said Koskinen, unsuccessfully tried to recover data and the hard drive was eventually cleaned and junked.

Camp and other Republicans question that narrative, especially since Lerner’s damaged hard drive contained emails during a period in which the agency has admitted to subjecting tea party groups and other conservative organizations to extra scrutiny. This scrutiny followed a Supreme Court decision that allowed for almost unlimited corporate donations to flow into political campaigns.

Lerner was called before a House committee last year, declared her innocence but then refused to provide testimony. She was later held in contempt of Congress by the Republican-led House of Representatives, which recommended to the Justice Department that she be prosecuted.