WASHINGTON (AP) — Investigators found no evidence that IRS employees were told to destroy or hide information from Congress, the Justice Department or an inspector general in the probe of erased emails related to the tax agency's tea party scandal, according to an internal report released late Thursday.
While the 22-page report found no evidence that IRS employees intended to destroy data or hard drives, it also found that employees made no effort to uncover additional emails as Congress pressed for information.
The report reiterates many of the details spelled out in congressional testimony last month, when government investigators said IRS employees erased computer backup tapes a month after officials discovered that thousands of emails related to the scandal had been lost.
The investigators, however, concluded that employees erased the tapes by mistake, not as part of an attempt to destroy evidence.
As many as 24,000 emails were lost because 422 backup tapes were erased, according to J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. George says those tapes "most likely" contained emails to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner, who has emerged as a central figure in congressional investigations into the treatment of conservative groups when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The inspector general interviewed 118 witnesses and reviewed extensive data.
"No evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, DOJ or TIGTA," the report said. DOJ is the acronym for the Justice Department; TIGTA is the inspector general.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight committee, released the report and said the results underscore that it is time for Republicans to end their probe.
"After spending more than $20 million and three years investigating, the Inspector General's conclusions remain the same: There is no evidence to substantiate Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement or intentional destruction of evidence," Cummings said. "It's time to stop this political witch hunt and focus on investigations that impact American's lives."
The report describes Terence Milholland, an IRS official, as "blown away" when he learned that email backup tapes from a decommissioned email server had been degaussed.
The report also said Lerner described herself as having a "rudimentary" understanding of computers. She said she received 100 to 200 each day, moved them to folders and then deleted the older ones as her IRS email account had a limit to how many it could hold.
She described coming into her office and seeing a "blue screen" when her hard drive failed in June 2011. She said she was surprised the agency's information technology team could not do more to recover her emails.