A federal judge said Wednesday he would hold IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in contempt of court if the tax agency continued to dodge legal requirements to hand over documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court threatened to "haul into court" the IRS commissioner during a hearing Wednesday over a two-year-old request filed by Judicial Watch.
"There's no reason for not complying. This is ridiculous. This is absurd," Sullivan told an IRS attorney Wednesday during the heated court hearing.
Sullivan had ordered the IRS to begin producing emails sent to and from Lois Lerner, former head of the agency's tax-exempt unit, on a weekly basis during a July 1 hearing.
But the IRS attorneys hadn't done so, citing legal technicalities such as the fact that the order was given verbally.
"My intent was to get production of these documents," Sullivan said. "I don't want to get off on a tangent holding people in contempt of court. I'll do that, but I don't like doing that."
Judicial Watch, which first sent the four FOIA requests in question to the IRS in May of 2013, had also asked the tax agency to produce status reports with each set of documents in order to clarify its progress on fulfilling the requests.
But the IRS failed to compile the status reports. While the agency did hand over 906 pages of Lerner's emails — which had presumably been recovered by the IRS inspector general — on July 15, it was still two weeks late on the production.
Sullivan called the government's attempts to justify the delay "clearly indefensible."
"I want to get the documents where they are supposed to be, to the plaintiffs. They're entitled to the documents," he said. "The public has a right to know what these documents say."
"I'm not going to tolerate further noncompliance with the court's orders," Sullivan added. "If there is further noncompliance, I will haul into court the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service to show cause why that person should not be personally held in contempt of court. I can't make that any clearer."
Sullivan's threat came two days after Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called on President Obama to remove Koskinen given his agency's refusal to cooperate with a congressional investigation into whether the IRS targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for nonprofit status.
The White House stood by Koskinen Wednesday, calling the IRS commissioner "a man of the highest integrity."
Hundreds of pages of emails released to Judicial Watch on July 15 suggest the IRS had begun receiving inquiries about potentially partisan targeting as early as February 2012 — more than a year before the inspector general revealed the systematic scrutiny in May of 2013.
The IRS inspector general uncovered thousands of Lerner's emails last year after the agency claimed most had been permanently lost when Lerner's hard drive crashed.