Republicans criticize handling of IRS inquiry

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Republicans criticize handling of IRS inquiry
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Lois Lerner, former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service(IRS), listens during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chairman Darrell Issa(R-CA) questioned witness Lerner, to see if the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting US citizens based on their political beliefs. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the media follow Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) exempt organizations office, left, after a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lerner, the mid-level IRS official at the center of a controversy over treatment of small-government groups, invoked her right not to testify after reading a statement denying that she had committed any crimes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10:Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) looks on during a House Oversight Committee meeting to determine whether or not to hold IRS Official Lois Lerner in contempt, on Capitol Hill, April 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. After debate, the committee voted 21-12 to hold her in contempt and refer the matter to the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Lois Lerner, former director of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division at the Internal Revenue Service(IRS), is re-sworn-in for a continuation of a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to see if the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting US citizens based on their political beliefs. Lerner once again invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) exempt organizations office, listens during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lerner, the mid-level IRS official at the center of a controversy over treatment of small-government groups, invoked her right not to testify after reading a statement denying that she had committed any crimes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. The widening inquiries into the IRS are focusing less on why employees singled out small-government groups for scrutiny and more on agency executives who didn't inform Congress earlier. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013 photo, shows a 2013 1040-ES IRS Estimated Tax form at H & R Block tax preparation office in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. “The United States income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax, which means that tax must be paid as you earn or receive your income during the year,” the IRS says. “You can either do this through withholding or by making estimated tax payments.” (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, prior to testifying before the House Oversight Committee hearing probing whether tea party groups were improperly targeted for increased scrutiny by the government’s tax agency. Earlier this month, IRS official Lois Lerner was called to testify about the controversy but refused to answer questions by committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at least nine times. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013 photo, H & R Block public accountant, John Lee, explains how to file the 2013 1040-ES IRS Estimated Tax forms at his H & R Block tax preparation office in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles. “The United States income tax is a pay-as-you-go tax, which means that tax must be paid as you earn or receive your income during the year,” the IRS says. “You can either do this through withholding or by making estimated tax payments.” (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. The IRS has been under fire from Democrats and Republicans in Congress since May, when one of its officials publicly apologized for targeting conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status for close examination. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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By ERIC TUCKER

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans chastised the Justice Department on Thursday for failing to share information with Congress about its investigation into the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Lawmakers called anew for a special prosecutor to look into the matter.

The criticism during a House subcommittee meeting came as Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the Justice Department's No. 2 official, said the investigation has been broadened to include the disappearance of emails from the computer of Lois Lerner, who formerly headed the IRS division that deals with tax-exempt organizations.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, told Cole that he had "serious concerns" about the investigation and asked what it would take for an independent prosecutor to be appointed. He also demanded that prosecutors investigate why it took the IRS two months to publicly report the missing emails.

Jordan asked, "Are you going to look at the fact that the head of the agency that targeted conservative groups knew in April and didn't tell us" until June?

Cole, who said the Justice Department didn't learn about the email loss until after it was reported in the news media, said he did not know the reason for the two-month lag but that he expected it to be looked into as part of the broader investigation.

Lerner, who refused to answer questions at two House committee hearings, has become a central figure in several congressional investigations into the handling of applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups. At both hearings, Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. In May, the Republican-led House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify.

The IRS revealed last month that it lost the emails in 2011 when Lerner's computer crashed. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said he's seen no evidence that anyone committed a crime in connection with the lost emails. There is no evidence that Lerner intentionally destroyed them, he said, adding that IRS has gone to great lengths trying to retrieve lost documents on her computer.

Lerner's attorney, William Taylor III, declined to comment.

The disclosure by Lerner in May 2013 that the IRS had engaged in "inappropriate" targeting of conservatives set off a political firestorm that continues to flare in this election year. Word that investigators are broadening their inquiry to include the missing emails comes as Republican lawmakers accuse the Obama administration of not cooperating with their investigation and failing to take the matter seriously enough. Attorney General Eric Holder has resisted their calls to appoint a special prosecutor.

"Crimes were committed. Regulations were violated. Rules were broken. And Americans' constitutional rights were violated by Lois Lerner and perhaps others around her," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a leading Justice Department critic told Cole.

The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, defended the department, saying there was no evidence of obstruction.

Koskinen said he first learned there was a problem with Lerner's computer in February, but he didn't learn that emails were lost until April. The IRS notified Congress on June 13, and Koskinen testified that he wanted to learn the scope of the problem before telling Congress. For example, he said, technicians were able to locate 24,000 Lerner emails on other IRS employees' computers.

Republicans say the department has been less than vigorous in its probe. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, asked Cole, "Does it not concern you that your exhaustive investigation did not uncover the fact that you were missing emails, and you had to be read about it in the press?"

When panel members sought more detail on the investigation's progress, Cole said it remains active but would not answer specific questions about its status.

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