In one of the Obama administration's most shameless weekend news dumps, the IRS claimed on Friday afternoon that a hard drive glitch erased many of Lois Lerner's emails sent between 2009 and 2011. The Associated Press reports that Congressional Republicans are irate over this tardy and dodgy "disclosure," which is sure to catapult the IRS targeting scandal back into the spotlight:
Congressional investigators are fuming over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency's tea party controversy. The IRS said Lois Lerner's computer crashed in 2011, wiping out an untold number of emails that were being sought by congressional investigators. The investigators want to see all of Lerner's emails from 2009 to 2013 as part of their probe into the way agents handled applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups...Congressional investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the handling of tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it. If anyone in the Obama administration outside the agency was involved, investigators were hoping for clues in Lerner's emails.
But many of those emails are supposedly "lost" forever because of an alleged technological crash, about which investigators are just now being informed. Thousands of her messages have been recovered -- just not the ones Lerner would have sent to officials outside the IRS:
The IRS said technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner's computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency's criminal investigations unit. But to no avail. The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 because Lerner had copied in other IRS employees. The agency said it pieced together the emails from the computers of 82 other IRS employees. But an untold number are gone. Camp's office said the missing emails are mainly ones to and from people outside the IRS, "such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices."
What a remarkable coincidence. Correspondence that could potentially reveal a wider conspiracy to use the enforcement power of the federal government to target, harass and punish conservative groups has been irreversibly "lost," so the agency's compliance with Congressional subpoenas will necessarily be incomplete. Oh, and the time frame just happens to align with the period in which the targeting practices were first initiated. Problem: The current IRS commissioner testified under oath in March that agency emails are "stored in servers." This entire exchange with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is worth watching, as John Koskinen serves up excuses for why the IRS has been so slow to turn over requested materials to Congress -- but the key bit begins about 90 seconds in:
Chaffetz: What email system do you use there at the IRS?
Koskinen: What email system do we use?
Chaffetz: Yeah, is it Outlook, or…
Koskinen: Yes, we have actually Microsoft -- or at least I have -- Microsoft Outlook.
Chaffetz: So you go on there, and you want to find all of the items you sent under your name, how long would that take?
Koskinen: Well it'd take awhile because they're not all on my computer. They're all stored somewhere.
Chaffetz: That's [part] of the brilliance of the email system. You go in and you check the 'sent' box, and the inbox, and you suddenly have all of the emails, correct?
Koskinen: Right. They get taken off and stored in servers…
Based on these answers, those emails should be backed up somewhere on servers, making it utterly implausible that Lerner's so-called computer crash could have permanently deleted any of her messages. Ed Morrissey notes, "the relevant files would be kept on the servers or on backup media, which would have data for the whole organization and not just a single user…[that's] especially true in organizations that require data storage and full retrieval capacity by statute — such as federal agencies like the IRS." The Blaze tracked down an IT expert who's worked for both the government and Microsoft, who lists six reasons why the agency's story defies credibility. He concludes, “I don’t know of any email administrator that doesn’t have at least three ways of getting that mail back...There are at least three ways the government can get those emails.” As a reminder, some of Lerner's not-lost emails indicate that the IRS coordinated with the Justice Department (perhaps illegally) over potential criminal prosecutions of conservative groups and likely shared information with Congressional Democrats, in spite of previous denials. Lerner separately joked (?) about leaving the agency to take a job with President Obama's political organization, causing co-workers to speculate over whether she was serious. What might be lurking in her "disappeared" emails? The IRS says we'll never know, which doesn't sit well with National Journal's Ron Fournier:
A sloppy mistake, the government calls it, but you couldn't blame a person for suspecting a cover-up -- the loss of an untold number of emails to and from the central figure in the IRS tea party controversy. And, because the public's trust is a fragile gift that the White House has frittered away in a series of second-term missteps, President Obama needs to act. If the IRS can't find the emails, maybe a special prosecutor can...The White House is stonewalling the IRS investigation. The most benign explanation is that Obama's team is politically expedient and arrogant, which makes them desperate to change the subject, and convinced of their institutional innocence. That's bad enough. But without a fiercely independent investigation, we shouldn't assume the explanation is benign.