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IRS hearings get heated on Capitol Hill

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Things got heated on the Hill during a Ways & Means Committee meeting regarding lost IRS emails. (Source: POOL/CNN) Things got heated on the Hill during a Ways & Means Committee meeting regarding lost IRS emails. (Source: POOL/CNN)

WASHINGTON, DC (POOL/CNN) - In the annals of white-hot moments on Capitol Hill, the IRS hearing ranks high.

"This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial. I don't believe you. This is incredible," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI.

"I have had a long career," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. "This is the first time anybody has said that they do not believe me."

"I don't believe you," Ryan said.

The former Republican vice presidential candidate is usually more policy wonk than attack dog, but not on Capitol Hill Friday.

"You ask taxpayers to hang onto seven years of their personal tax information in case, in case they're ever audited, and you can't keep six months' worth of employee emails?," Ryan asked.

Republicans pushed Koskinen on new IRS claims that two years of emails from IRS official Lois Lerner vanished, because Lerner's hard drive crashed. The emails from the same time frame claimed to show the IRS targeted tea party and other groups.

"The actual hard drive, after it was determined that after it was dysfunctional and that, with experts, no emails could be retrieved was recycled and destroyed in the normal process," Koskinen said.

"So was it physically destroyed," Rep. Dave Camp, R-MI, asked.

"That is my understanding," Koskinen said.

The IRS commissioner repeatedly said Lerner herself worked with I.T., even an IRS criminal forensics lab, to restore the emails, but they couldn't. Noted was that the IRS did find 24,000 Lerner emails elsewhere.

Koskinen denied claims the IRS withheld information.

Beyond the question of what happened to Lerner's missing emails is whether the IRS purposely kept Congress in the dark that emails were lost, fueling GOP accusations of a cover-up, which Koskinen flatly denied.

"There's been no attempt to keep it a secret. My position has been that when we provide information we should provide it completely," Koskinen said. "When we provide you incomplete information, people sometimes are tempted to leap to the wrong conclusion."

It was testy right out of the gate.

"What I didn't hear in that is an apology to this Committee," Camp said.

"I don't think an apology is owed," Koskinen said.

The IRS commissioner tried to give as good as he got from Republicans, with backup from Democrats, who accused Republicans of badgering the witness.

"This hearing has been conducted as less of a hearing than it has been an inquisition," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA.

Democrats even mocked Republicans for obsessing over conspiracy theories.

"How about Area 51 out in Roswell, NM where all those space aliens allegedly came – have you ever had any responsibility for that," Rep. Llyod Doggett, D-TX, asked.

"No," Koskinen said.

"Have you ever had custody of the president's birth certificate," Doggett asked.

"No," Koskinen said.

When this IRS scandal first broke, there was bipartisan outrage at the IRS – no more.

Not only did Democrats defend the IRS on Friday, they also sent around stories from 2007 reminding reporters of 5 million emails went missing under the Bush administration, emails about a Republican scandal over firing federal prosecutors, allegedly for political reasons.

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