This admission dropped late Friday in a classic news dump -- the purpose of which is to bury a damaging story over the course of a weekend. There was zero chance we'd allow this update to the IRS scandal to slip our minds, however. The preposterous and insulting cover-up continues apace, reports the Associated Press:
The IRS says it has lost emails from five more workers who are part of congressional investigations into the treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax exempt status. The tax agency said in June that it could not locate an untold number of emails to and from Lois Lerner, who headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The revelation set off a new round of investigations and congressional hearings. On Friday, the IRS said it has also lost emails from five other employees related to the probe, including two agents who worked in a Cincinnati office processing applications for tax-exempt status. The agency blamed computer crashes for the lost emails. In a statement, the IRS said it found no evidence that anyone deliberately destroyed evidence.
More wildly improbable "crashes," which we're blithely assured were not deliberate in nature. This time, the coincidental malfunctions afflicted a number of agents from the infamous Cincinnati office, which was initially and falsely scapegoated by DC higher-ups as the source of a narrow, local scandal. (Astonishingly, the president has continued to cling to this thoroughly debunked talking point, blaming "bone-headed" decisions by "local" employees" as recently as this year). Darrell Issa is right to say that merely trying to keep up with the IRS' ever-changing explanations and excuses is a Herculean task unto itself. Here's my stab at a Cliffs Notes version of the acrobatics performed over the last four months alone:
June 2014 - Just over one year after the IRS scandal detonates in Washington, the embattled agency announces that a large cache of emails from to Lois Lerner, the senior DC-based manager at the center of the targeting controversy, had been mysteriously lost. They attribute this mass deletion to a "hard drive crash." The lost communications happen to span from 2009, when the abuse began, to 2011 -- and the 'accidental' crash occurred just ten days after the first Congressional inquiry into allegations of improper targeting was launched. A National Archives official testifies that the IRS violated federal law in failing to report the deleted data as soon as the crash occurred. After the controversy went public, Lerner inquired whether the IRS' internal instant messaging system was archived anywhere. She'd previously admonished coworkers to be "cautious" about what they said in emails.
July 2014 - The agency reveals that emails from at least a dozen additional employees facing targeting-related scrutiny had also been inadvertently and permanently misplaced, again due to "crashes." At the very least, this signals serial disregard for data retention protocols implemented to comply with federal laws.
July 2014 - It emerges that Lerner's hard drive was only "scratched," and that IRS information technology experts at the time recommended seeking outside assistance to cull what they believed to be her computer's retrievable contents. This advice was ignored, for reasons that remain unclear, and Lerner's hard drive was destroyed. Separately, agency commissioner John Koskinen testifies that the IRS moved heaven and earth to restore the lost data, but is forced to admit under questioning that they hadn't even checked the six-month 'back up tape' to which he freely admitted they had access at the time. A flustered Koskinen's only excuse for this failure was that the process would have been "costly and difficult."
August 2014 - An attorney at the Justice Department informs watchdog organization Judicial Watch that Lerner's emails were, in fact, backed up somewhere, but that the recovery process has been deemed "too hard." This echoes Koskinen's explanation above and reflects a previous nugget of testimony from March, in which the commissioner asserted that all agency emails were "stored in servers." He later back-pedaled from that claim, just as the Justice Department said that Judicial Watch had misinterpreted its attorney's comment.
August 2014 - The IRS confirms that a Blackberry belonging to Lois Lerner was wiped clean and recycled in June 2012, after investigations into targeting accusations were underway.
September 2014 - Emails from five more relevant IRS employees are declared lost, also due to flabbergastingly ill-timed "computer crashes." This development comes directly on the heels of non-lost targeting emails revealing a previously-indisclosed "secret research project," under the auspices of which IRS officials inappropriately collected donor lists from various conservative groups.
What we're witnessing is a powerful and feared arm of the federal government systematically punishing its ideological opponents over two election cycles, crudely destroying the evidence of its actions after the fact, and having a good laugh as it serves up risible and contradictory public excuses, even as virtually no one believes them. The IRS lied about the targeting as it occurred, lied about how the abuse was finally disclosed, lied about who was responsible for it, and lied about their efforts to secure and retrieve missing evidence. The White House changed its story nearly half a dozen times about how and when it was informed of the practice, and the administration transitioned abruptly from pro forma expressions of outrage to a messaging strategy of smirking mockery and dismissal. Democrats ridiculed angry conservatives as conspiracy theorists fixated on a "phony scandal," muddying the waters by claiming that liberal groups were similarly targeted. (They were not). The president glibly shrugged that there's nothing to see here, declaring that not even "a smidgen of corruption" had infected the IRS. The active perpetrators of the wrongful targeting campaign and its political beneficiaries seem supremely confident that their ongoing stonewall will hold. They appear smugly convinced that serious consequences will be evaded -- thanks, at least in part, to a mainstream media whose short attention span is compounded by the realty that they're simply not especially concerned with demanding accountability over an egregious abuse-of-power scandal that endangers their preferred political party.
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