Two House panels swept aside Wednesday resolutions that would require the Pentagon and the Justice Department to produce any emails in its possession from embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner.
The House Armed Services Committee reported the measure (H Res 649), sponsored by Texas Republican Steve Stockman, to the full House without recommendation by voice vote. The House Judiciary Committee also acted on legislation (H Res 646) calling on the Justice Department to hand over emails of Lerner tied to the tax agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
The Armed Services markup, which lasted roughly 10 minutes and saw terse debate, took place ahead of a hearing with Pentagon officials on the details of the president's $58.6 billion fiscal 2015 request for Overseas Contingency Operations, which would primarily fund military operations in Afghanistan. Outside of its annual defense authorization measure, the panel rarely marks up legislation.
The measure considered by the Armed Services panel would call for the Defense secretary and the director of the National Security Agency to provide the House with any emails sent to, or received from Lerner between Jan. 1, 2009, and April 30, 2011. The Judiciary measure would direct the Justice Department to hand over copies of any emails in its possession that were sent to, or from, Lerner. The measure responds to the recent assertion by the IRS that it lost Lerner’s emails for that period.
The Judiciary panel approved the proposal, by voice vote, without recommendation.
Both proposals are resolutions of inquiry, for which House rules require committee action within 14 legislative days in order to prevent the proposal from being called to the floor under a privileged motion. A third Stockman proposal (H Res 664) would call for Lerner’s arrest on charges of contempt of Congress.
If, however, the committee of jurisdiction chooses to report a resolution of inquiry — be it favorably, adversely or with no recommendation — the ability to call up the measure would rest solely with the chairman of the committee or a designee.
Multiple congressional committees have demanded the communications, but the IRS said in June that Lerner's emails, which were being sought by investigating committees were lost in a computer crash.
In his brief opening remarks, the Armed Services panel's chairman, California Republican Howard "Buck" McKeon noted ongoing investigations of the IRS alleged targeting of conservative political groups by other committees and recommended that Armed Services make no recommendation on how the House should handle Stockman's resolution. The ranking Democrat, Adam Smith of Washington, concurred and said that the referral of the resolution surprised him.
"Given the subject matter here I find it highly unlikely that there is any relevant email," Smith said. "And certainly I think we've done more than enough investigating on more than enough issues, so I hope we can just dispose of this quickly and move on."
Indeed Stockman said his aim with the resolution did not center on any specific concern that the Pentagon may have been involved. Rather, Stockman said, he introduced several resolutions covering multiple departments and agencies to ensure "fair play" in his hunt for the emails.
"We're doing it like a big dragnet," he said.