Koskinen Apologizes, Not to Congress, but on CNN: 'It's a Serious Matter'

By Susan Jones | June 27, 2014 | 8:03 AM EDT

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - IRS Commissioner John Koskinen refused to apologize for IRS misbehavior when he went before Congress, but he did apologize Thursday afternoon when he went on CNN's "Situation Room" to project a more accommodating attitude.

"As I said when I began, the improper criteria used to highlight organizations for investigation just by their name was a mistake. I apologize to anybody who had their applications held up needlessly," Koskinen told Wolf Blitzer.

"Everybody needs to be confident that the IRS is going to treat them fairly, no matter who they are: Republicans, Democrats, whatever organization they belong to. It's a serious matter."

Even some liberals described Koskinen as being "arrogant" in his recent appearances before the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But he tried to be more sympathetic on Thursday.

Not only did Koskinen apologize and agree that the IRS targeting of conservatives is a serious matter, he also agreed that Lois Lerner's hard drive crashing ten days after Congress requested her emails doesn't look good.

"It is suspicious," he admitted, but he also added that not all of Lerner's emails have been lost. The IRS has been able to find about 24,000 emails from the 2009-2011 period, but an untold number -- to agencies outside the IRS -- may never be found.

Koskinen said the inspector-general "is investigating all of the issues about the hard drive crash. My approach, when I parachute into these things, is to try to fix the problems rather than try to figure out how to blame."

Asked if he should ask a special prosecutor or the FBI to conduct a criminal probe, Koskinen didn't budge: "I think the appropriate way to proceed is let's see what the I.G. finds out."

He noted that in addition to the IG investigation, six others are under way: "Listen, nothing has stopped this Congress from subpoenaing records, interviewing people. They are -- they're not doing anything more than a special prosecutor would.

"I've said before, if the six investigations on the Hill and the Justice Department and the I.G. can't find things out, it'll be surprising to me. And it would be...a significant waste of taxpayer dollars. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to get information out. It's a serious question."

Koskinen said he has "cooperated with everybody," although congressional Republicans disagree. They have faulted him for not telling Congress about Lerner's missing emails as soon as he learned about them. The Treasury Department and the White House knew about Lerner's hard drive crash at least six weeks before congressional investigators found out.

Koskinen repeated what he told Congress, that he's seen no evidence of criminal conduct. "And in fact, if Ms. Lerner were destroying emails, she wouldn't have kept making them, all of the emails you've read in public that the House committees have been putting out were all emails she wrote that we provided."

He said nobody has turned up any email so far indicating that anyone outside the IRS was involved in the targeting of conservatives.

Blitzer noted that Koskinen is a Democrat who has donated to Democratic causes and candidates, including President Obama. "Reassure the American people that you're not going to let your partisanship interfere with this investigation," Blitzer told him.

"I've never been a partisan operative or a political operative. I was actually asked by the Bush administration to come in and work on Freddie Mac.

"I've contributed to campaigns for the last 40 or 50 years, many of them friends. I, at this point in my career, it's not my intention at all to play games with the Congress. My goal is to help restore people's faith in a critical institution for the country, the IRS.

"As I said, people need to feel comfortable that it's not a politicized agency, that it treats people fairly, no matter who they are."

Koskinen said his job "has been perhaps more interesting" than he anticipated: "I kid that I should have read the fine print of the contract more closely," he joked. And even with what he's been through, he said he'd do it all over again:

"If you believe in public service, this agency is critical. It collects most of the money the government spends, and it touches virtually every America and every taxpayer. And I think if you believe in public service, the opportunity to try to help it through this time, to restore the faith of the public that it is, in fact, non-political, that its job is simply tax administration, was too important an opportunity to pass up."