WH on Lerner Emails: 'You've Never Heard of a Computer Crashing Before?'

Posted: Jun 17, 2014 1:25 PM

Friendly reminder, America. They think you're stupid:

A top White House official blamed a computer crash for the disappearance of emails from embattled former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner, echoing the explanation the agency gave Congress last week for the two years' worth of missing subpoenaed correspondence. "I think it's entirely reasonable. And it's fact," incoming White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One Monday. "You've never heard of a computer crashing before?" he asked. After the IRS informed Congress of the missing emails last Friday, Republican lawmakers have accused the White House of a cover-up. Earnest called those accusations "not at all surprising and not particularly believable," adding 67,000 emails "sent by or received by" Lerner have been offered to Congress.

New sneering, dismissive spokesman, same as the old sneering, dismissive spokesman. The Washington Post offers the IRS' version of how Lerner's emails "disappeared." In short, the agency says its back-up digital tape was scrubbed and re-used every six months, so the 2009-2011 emails were long gone by the time the IRS scandal broke in 2013. The IRS also placed a 500 megabyte data limit on stored emails for each employee, so retained emails beyond that capacity were stored on local computers. And Lerner's crashed in 2011. There are a few problems with this explanation: (1) When her computer went on the fritz, couldn't an IT team have restored at least six months' worth of emails from the yet-to-be recycled digital tape? (2) Also, the IRS had a policy in place requiring all "official record" emails -- basically, any communications related to IRS business -- to be printed out and preserved in hard copy form. The Post writes, "it's not clear if Lerner had any hard copies of important emails." What's unclear to me is how any of this jibes with the IRS commissioner's March testimony that agency emails are "stored in servers." Perhaps he was speaking imprecisely. (3) Even if one accepts the IRS' version of events as 100 percent true, why are members of Congress just finding out about this devastating crash now? Shouldn't the IRS have been transparent about that problem at the outset (more than a year ago), rather than agreeing to turn over emails they knew to be missing? House investigators say they have evidence that IRS officials knew about the "lost" emails as of (at least) this February. The agency's commissioner pledged to comply with Congress' subpoena in March.

Reporter Sharyl Attkisson presents a
series of questions to the IRS, some of which were purportedly addressed in the Post piece, with additional queries coming from an attorney representing one of the targeted conservative groups. It's not just Congressional investigators who aren't buying the administration's "who, us?" routine. Mainstream media outlets are ridiculing the IRS' laughable story that a computer crash permanently destroyed almost two years' worth of a powerful bureaucrat's emails. In discussing the claim, CNN asked, "do you believe in the Easter bunny?" and MSNBC's Morning Joe crew called it "ridiculous." A former Information Technology specialist at the IRS agrees (via The PJ Tatler):

A former IRS IT specialist is casting serious doubt on the IRS’ claim to have lost the Lerner emails. These environments were required by federal regulations to be redundant and recoverable,” the former IRS IT worker says. “The recoverability requirements were put into place for exactly the reasons we see today.” Disposal of records outside the statutory standards requires permission in writing...In the case of the prime contract and record retention, “The IRS IT projects were fully funded and never lacked for resources. To state ‘Backup tapes were reused after some short period’ is a complete joke. The IRS had thousands and thousands of tapes and ‘Virtual Tape Libraries’ (VTL or non-tape backups based on hard drive storage technologies). There was never a reason to reuse tapes.” Indeed, the U.S. government has been getting out of the tape backup regime for years. The former IRS IT worker points to this ExaGrid document from 2011. In the document, ExaGrid discusses its work with the federal government to eliminate tape backups in favor of faster and more secure record retention systems...The former IRS IT worker adds that in his time on the prime contract, “I have worked for many federal agencies and the IRS had some of the best people.

Now add this development to the mix, and more questions begin to swirl:

Another "crash" of another IRS scandal figure's computer -- also in 2011? Who are the other five? The House Oversight Committee will be seeking answers at upcoming hearings. I'll leave you with this link, which takes you to an IRS website offering useful tips about how long to keep your records in order to avoid criminal penalties. Quote: "Keep all employment tax records for at least 4 years."

- This is one of the IRS officials whose emails have also "disappeared:"