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Republican lawmaker slams IRS over emails in Tea Party affair

WASHINGTON - The Republican chairman of a congressional panel accused the Internal Revenue Service on Monday of hiding a former official's emails related to a 2013 controversy involving IRS treatment of conservative groups.

Rep. Darrell Issa criticized what he called "obstruction by the IRS" over emails written by Lois Lernerthat the committee wants for review. The agency said last week it lost some of Lerner's emails in a computer crash.

"I'm sick and tired of your game-playing in response to congressional oversight," Issa told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who appeared before Issa's Republican-controlled committee in an unusual evening hearing.

Koskinen, who was confirmed as IRS chief in December, said: "No one has been keeping this information from Congress."

The controversy erupted in May last year over extra scrutiny applied by the IRS to applications from non-profit groups for tax-exempt status, including some groups aligned with the conservative Tea Party.

Republicans have been investigating the affair, which had faded from the headlines until last week when the IRS's lost emails admission reinvigorated the inquiry.

Democrats on the committee said Republicans were rehashing baseless accusations. "This is about theater" meant to stir the Republican voter base ahead of November's congressional elections, said Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia.

Issa's House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee said on Monday that, as part of its inquiry, it had subpoenaed Jennifer O’Connor of the White House Counsel’s office for testimony on Tuesday.

The subpoena followed a letter from White House Counsel Neil Eggleston declining to make O’Connor available on a voluntary basis to testify, the committee said.

In May 2013, Lerner, who once ran the agency's tax-exempt division, unexpectedly apologized in public for what she called "inappropriate" scrutiny by the IRS of non-profit conservative groups, some aligned with the Tea Party.

Republicans accused the IRS of unfairly singling out conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status for extra review. In the controversy that followed, the acting chief of the IRS stepped down and Lerner later retired.

The agency said last week that Lerner's computer crashed in mid-2011 and that some of her emails from January 2009 to April 2011 could not be recovered.