WASHINGTON, June 14, 2014 — A claim by the IRS that it lost two years of email due to a computer crash has been met with disbelief in Congress. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa asked, “Do they really expect the American people to believe that, after having withheld these emails for a year, they’re just now realizing the most critical time period is missing?”
The missing mail was sent by former IRS official Lois Lerner, who is at the center of an investigation into IRS targeting of conservative groups prior to the 2012 elections. Groups with names that suggested a link to the Tea Party or other conservative movements were subjected to especially strict scrutiny when they applied for 501(c)(4) status, and this interfered with their ability to participate in the elections.
Liberal groups were supposedly not subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
The IRS claims that the computer crash resulted in the loss of all email Lerner sent to and received from anyone outside the IRS between 2009 and 2011. Republican leaders in Congress were openly skeptical of the claim. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said, “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the inspector general.”
Camp and Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, both expressed outrage that the IRS announced the loss of the email over a year into the investigation. Hatch called the announcement “an outrageous impediment to our investigation.”
The announcement is reminiscent of the claim by the Nixon Administration that over 18 minutes of taped Oval Office conversations were lost when President Nixon’s secretary, Rosemary Woods, accidentally erased them. The lost tape was from a June 20, 1972 conversation between Nixon and administration officials, and it was believed to be relevant to the Watergate investigation. Forensic experts were unable to retrieve anything of the erased tape, raising suspicion that Woods must have accidentally erased the same segment of tape more than once.
Lerner’s missing email would include messages to and from the White House, the Department of Justice, the Treasury, the FEC, and possibly “Democrat offices,” according to Camp.
The IRS released a statement on the email loss. “At the request of the Senate Finance Committee, the IRS today provided a summary of its production of email and materials to the Committee related to the processing and review of applications for tax-exempt status, as described in the May 2013 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. … The IRS has made unprecedented efforts in connection with this effort, producing more than 750,000 pages of documents to help complete the investigations. In total, the IRS’s efforts to respond to Congress have involved more than 250 IRS employees working more than 120,000 hours at a direct cost of nearly $10 million.
“As we advised the committee three months ago, we have completed the production of materials related to the investigation, including 11,000 emails sent or received by Lois Lerner,” the statement continued. “… the IRS has been working on the identification and production of other Lois Lerner emails. The additional emails do not relate to the Finance Committee’s investigation. As part of this additional search, the IRS collected emails from 83 individuals. Congressional investigators have—or will soon have—a total of 67,000 emails sent or received by Ms. Lerner. In the course of collecting and producing Ms. Lerner’s additional emails, the IRS determined her hard drive crashed in 2011. At the time, Ms. Lerner asked IRS IT professionals to restore her hard drive, but they were unable to do so. Nonetheless, the IRS has or will produce 24,000 Lerner emails from this 2009-2011 time period, largely from the files of the other 82 individuals. The IRS’s production to Congress of the 67,000 Lerner emails is nearly complete.
“The IRS is committed to working with Congress. The IRS has remained focused on being thorough and responding as quickly as possible to the wide-ranging requests from Congress while taking steps to protect underlying taxpayer information.”
Nixon Admin Watergate Communications 18 min gap; Obama Admin Lerner Communications 1,052,000 min gap. Difference? Not even a smidgen.
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) June 14, 2014