(CNSNews.com) - Responding to a question about the IRS scandal, White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday said the White House is committed to "cooperating" with both "legitimate" and "illegitimate" congressional oversight. "But I'll go through it again, because it's pretty entertaining," he told a reporter.
That reporter wondered if the IRS's two-month delay in telling Congress about Lois Lerner's missing emails was "acceptable to this White House."
"[W]hat would Congress have done had they known about it in April or May or whenever the commissioner first learned about it?" Earnest responded. "The fact of the matter is that this was -- that there is -- there's not anything that is tangibly different about the situation right now...
"But the fact of the matter is, our commitment to cooperating with legitimate congressional oversight -- and in some cases illegitimate congressional oversight -- is pretty well documented. But I'll go through it again, because it's pretty entertaining."
"Are you saying Darrell Issa's oversight is illegitimate?" the reporter asked.
"Well, I'm saying that there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the partisan motivation of some of those who are conducting oversight in this circumstance. The fact of the matter is, there have been 17 congressional hearings into this matter, two in the last 17 hours and three in the last 24 hours. They've had as many congressional investigations into this in the last 24 hours as I've had meals. That seems like a lot.
"Thirty interviews with IRS employees. Fifty written congressional requests. Seven hundred and fifty thousand pages of documents. After all of that, after three long congressional hearings in the last 24 hours, zero -- that's the other key number here, zero -- zero evidence to substantiate any of the partisan Republican claims about this matter."
Republicans are asking the IRS why key evidence -- an untold number of Lois Lerner's emails to agencies outside the IRS -- have disappeared, and why the IRS commissioner waited at least six weeks to inform the investigating committees that her computer's hard drive had crashed in 2011.
"But doesn't that sound like 'the dog ate my homework' when you have two years of missing emails? It just on the face of it doesn't sound credible," the reporter told Earnest.
"I guess if you listen solely to the arguments that are offered up by Republicans, you might have reason to question their credibility. I agree with that, because the fact of the matter is that, despite the failure of the hard drive, as has been well-chronicled, the fact of the matter is 24,000 emails from that time period have been reconstructed and produced to Congress, again, because of our commitment to cooperating with congressional oversight in this matter. That what we've been focused on.
"So again, I understand why your eyebrows are raised when you see Republicans on Capitol Hill suggesting that there are two years' missing emails. It's not true. A large chunk of those emails have already been provided to Republicans in Congress. So when they say that, it is an indication, I think, that they're becoming increasingly desperate to try to -- to try to substantiate the conspiracy theories that they've been propagating for some time now.
"But again, the key number here is zero -- zero evidence to support the claims that are made by Republicans in this matter," Earnest said.
On Monday night, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, "All the emails we have will be provided. I did not say I would provide you emails that disappeared. If you have a magical way for me to do that, I'd be happy to know about it. I said I would provide all the emails. We are providing all the emails. The fact that three years ago, some of them -- not all of them, but some of them -- were not available, I never said I would provide you emails we didn't have; and in fact, we are going to provide you 24,000 emails from (that time)."
Republicans already know that the IRS tax-exempt division, then under Lois Lerner's supervision, singled out conservative groups for inappropriate scrutiny, in some cases delaying a ruling on their requests until after the 2012 elections. Republicans now want to know whether Lerner was acting in concert with others in the Obama administration to essentially politicize the IRS.
According to a May 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, "Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status."
TIGTA concluded that "Ineffective management 1) allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed; 2) resulted in substantial delays in processing certain applications, and 3) allowed unnecessary information requests to be issued."