There have been dozens of questions surrounding the disappearance of emails belonging to former IRS official Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the IRS targeting scandal. Some of Lerner's emails have been recovered, after IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said under oath they were lost forever. Thousands are still missing. But perhaps the most compelling questions that have been asked since the IRS targeting scandal broke in May 2013 are 1) Exactly where were Lerner's emails and backup tapes destroyed? 2) Who destroyed them?
Now, we have an answer. According to Americans for Tax Reform, Lerner's hard drive was destroyed by the IRS "Midnight Unit" in West Virginia:
Backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 Lois Lerner emails were destroyed by an IRS entity officially known as the "Media Management Midnight Unit" located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, according to documentation released this week by the House Oversight Committee. In all, 422 backup tapes holding the emails were magnetically "degaussed" despite an agency-wide preservation order and congressional subpoena. Degaussing is a process whereby powerful magnets are used to erase data on a storage tape.
The preservation order came from IRS Chief Technology Officer Terence Millholland in response to Congressional subpoenas over Lois Lerner's emails. However, the agency completely failed to ensure the order was followed or understood. According to the House Oversight report:
-"The IRS failed to ensure compliance with the preservation order at each turn. The IRS failed to confirm compliance with the preservation order in February 2014, upon learning of the gap in emails; failed to ensure the Media Management Midnight Unit, the team that destroyed the backup tapes, properly understood the preservation order; and failed to make certain that individuals who ordered the destruction of the specific media, in this instance the backup tapes, properly understood the preservation order."
Keep in mind Lerner's hard drive didn't simply "crash" on its own, but instead had physical damage. According to one Treasury Inspector General, the hard drive likely crashed due to "an impact of some sort." The question is who damaged the hard drive and whether it was done on purpose to destroy evidence.
New documentation released by the House Oversight Committee this week again raises questions on how Lois Lerner's hard drive was physically damaged and whether there was some kind of deliberate act to destroy data on it.
The House Oversight Committee report cites an officially transcribed interview with John Minsek, senior investigative analyst with the IRS Criminal Investigations (CI) unit. Minsek examined the Lerner hard drive in 2011. In the transcribed interview, he notes Lerner's hard drive contained "well-defined scoring creating a concentric circle in the proximity of the center of the disk."
Earlier this week a federal judge threatened to "haul into court the IRS Commissioner to hold him personally into contempt," for ignoring court orders and refusing to turn over emails belonging to Lerner by deadline.