IRS: Lois Lerner’s emails ‘wiped out’ in ‘computer crash’
Aw, shoot! The IRS was trying so hard to come up with documents requested by the House Ways and Means Committee, as part of its investigation into the abuse of power against conservative groups during the 2012 election. But wouldn’t you know it? One of those newfangled computer thingamabobs had itself a crash, and all of Tax Exempt Organizations Division director Lois Lerner’s emails done got erased!
Everything she sent to outside email addresses between January 2009 and April 2011 is lost into the ether. Everything she sent to the White House, the Justice Department, her old chums at the Federal Elections Commission, high-ranking Democrat politicians – gone! All they’ve got left is email correspondence between Lerner and other IRS employees.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), who asked for all these emails a year ago, is fit to be tied:
“The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries. There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.
“Just a short time ago, Commissioner Koskinen promised to produce all Lerner documents. It appears now that was an empty promise. Frankly, these are the critical years of the targeting of conservative groups that could explain who knew what when, and what, if any, coordination there was between agencies. Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone. This failure of the IRS requires the White House, which promised to get to the bottom of this, to do an Administration-wide search and production of any emails to or from Lois Lerner. The Administration has repeatedly referred us back to the IRS for production of materials. It is clear that is wholly insufficient when it comes to determining the full scope of the violation of taxpayer rights.”
Dagnabbit, thanks to this here act of God, we might never know “the full scope of the violation of taxpayer rights.” Everybody in the whole dad-gum Obama Administration must be real broken up about that.
Update: House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) reacts angrily to the IRS claims of a computer crash:
Isn’t it convenient for the Obama Administration that the IRS now says it has suddenly realized it lost Lois Lerner’s emails requested by Congress and promised by Commissioner John Koskinen? 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?
Congressional oversight has revealed that the IRS has –potentially illegally– shared confidential taxpayer information with the FBI and lost crucial email records even as the agency continues to withhold information by not fully complying with the Committee’s subpoena. Left to the IRS’ own preferences, the White House would still be retelling the lie that this was all about mismanagement confined to a local office. The supposed loss of Lerner’s emails further blows a hole in the credibility of claims that the IRS is complying with Congressional requests and their repeated assurances that they’re working to get to the truth. If there wasn’t nefarious conduct that went much higher than Lois Lerner in the IRS targeting scandal, why are they playing these games?
I imagined how the IRS might respond on Twitter:
Dear America: We found a smidgen of corruption after all, but it got wiped out in a hard drive crash, so it’s all good. Love, the IRS
— John Hayward (@Doc_0) June 13, 2014
Update: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) points out that not only have IRS officials been stalling on handing over the Lerner emails for over a year without ever mentioning any “computer crashes,” but the IRS commissioner testified in March that Lerner’s correspondence had been archived, which means it could not possibly have been wiped out by a malfunction in a single computer. Chaffetz posted the video of this exchange:
Supposedly efforts are under way to “reconstruct” all the correspondence from the hard drive kablooey nobody ever mentioned before today, but one suspects a number of choice items would be missing from whatever eventually gets handed over to House investigators, after even more delays. None of that should be necessary if the emails have been archived, as required by federal law, and as testified by the IRS commissioner.
Update: The IRS has rules requiring hard-copy backups of the emails it claims were utterly lost when Lois Lerner’s computer “crashed.” From The Blaze:
The IRS maintains an Internal Revenue Manual, and chapter 10, section 3 of that manual deals with standards for using email. Those standards, which apply to “all IRS employees,” make it clear that paper copies of all emails must be maintained.
Section 3 states that, “All federal employees and federal contractors are required by law to preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency.”
“If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly,” it adds. “The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records.”
According to these guidelines, an email formally becomes a federal record very easily. It just has to be created or received in the course of IRS business, is appropriate to keep as evidence of the government’s activities, or must otherwise be valuable based on the information it contains.
Section 3 also stresses that maintaining email records in a computer’s email application “does not meet the requirements of maintaining an official record.”
Of course, given that the Obama Administration regards actual laws as mere suggestions, I can’t see any top officials paying a stiff price for ignoring inconvenient rules in a handbook. Or else the IRS will assure Congress it can expect those hard copies no later than June 2019, and sometime between now and then, it will regretfully announce that all the papers were consumed in a fire, or perhaps eaten by locusts.
Update: Scott Johnson at PowerLine relates a message from a knowledgeable reader:
I’m a DOJ lawyer, so you obviously cannot use my name or any identifying information. But the idea that a “hard drive crash” somehow destroyed all of Ms. Lerner’s intra-government email correspondence during the period in question [2009-2011] is laughable. Government email servers are backed up every night. So if she actually had a hard drive fail, her emails would be recoverable from the backup. If the backup was somehow also compromised, then we are talking about a conspiracy.
Johnson’s reader stressed the importance of protecting his anonymity because “things are very, very bad” for government whistle-blowers right now. Hard drives aren’t the only thing that can crash in Chicago-on-the-Potomac, you know.