I’m tempted to say this is a watershed moment in the IRS saga, but two things hold me back: (1) the media isn’t likely to portray it that way, and (2) it’s all part of a generally successful effort to slow-walk the scandal until it dies… much like the politicized Tax Exempt Organizations division slow-walked those Tea Party applications, while intimidating organizers and their donors, until the 2012 election was over.
Nobody believes the IRS’ claims that a crucial two years of Tax Exempt Organizations head Lois Lerner’s emails vanished in a puff of ones and zeroes when the hard drive in her computer crashed… an event which allegedly occurred years ago, but which the IRS just got around to divulging on Friday afternoon, during the pre-weekend “news dump,” while the sky was choked with billowing smoke from the wreckage of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Everyone knows that’s ridiculous. There are so many reasons it’s ridiculous that it takes a while to list them all.
Reporter Sharyl Attkisson, whose tendency to doubt Obama White House narratives made her a poor fit for the mainstream press, summed up those reasons in a clever way, by proposing a list of “logical requests that should be made of the IRS” by Congress:
- Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
- Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS??? disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
- Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
- Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
- Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
- Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
- Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
- Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
- I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.
I had a suggestion related to a previous story involving Attkisson:
Can we check with the people who hacked into Sharyl Attkisson’s computer and see if maybe they’ve got Lois Lerner’s emails too?
??? John Hayward (@Doc_0) June 13, 2014
Everything on the above list absolutely should exist, if the “hard drive crash” story was true – including a great deal of communication involving the other data that would have been lost alongside Lerner’s emails, and somehow didn’t get rescued by the multiple backup systems that should have been involved. I wonder if it might prove difficult to get anyone to testify under oath about the crash, because the odds that one of the many puzzle pieces described by Attkission would fail to materialize, and they’d end up looking at a perjury rap.
And we’ve still got to wonder, if the new story is true, why IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified under oath that all of Lerner’s correspondence was safely archived. He’s one of many IRS officials called to testify on this scandal. Everyone knew Lerner was a pivotal figure in the story, and her emails were crucial evidence, especially given her own refusal to testify. But somehow none of these folks had the tiniest clue her email files for the years under investigation had been utterly and irretrievably wiped out – saved by none of the multi-layered back systems employed on both Lerner’s system and the IRS mail servers? None of the officials who testified before Congress ever saw a single scrap of the paperwork tornado Sharyl Attkisson outlines in her requests for information?
It shouldn’t have taken anywhere near this long to cough up those emails. If Congress had been handed the “hard drive crash” excuse in a prompt manner, they could have acted quickly to secure the missing correspondence from other computer systems, and seize backup media before it could be destroyed. Funny how that worked out.
The other great benefit for the Obama Administration from slow-walking this scandal is that firebomb revelations that would have set even the most servile and incurious media organization on fire – oh, my God, this thing just got real, they’re claiming they can’t provide the critical emails because Lerner’s computer crashed – now become footnotes that many “news” outlets are scarcely bothering to report at all.
That’s going to happen again, mark my words. Even if Congress does immediately demand the kind of documentation Attkission described, we’ll be told by the IRS that it will take months to pull it together… and then months will become years… maybe some subpoenas will buzz around the Administration like bumblebees… and we’ll finally get the next “dog ate my homework” excuse sometime in 2017. It might literally become a story completed in the history books: “Amazingly, many years after the scandal first erupted, it was discovered that the IRS could produce no documentation for the alleged system crash and backup failure that supposedly destroyed Lois Lerner’s correspondence. Conspiracy theorists say it was deliberately destroyed to conceal information that would have been politically devastating in the second decade of the 21st Century. Historians wonder, to this day, what those emails might have contained.”
House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa is very curious to know what the missing emails contain:
This ???loss??? of Lerner???s emails discredits the claims that the #IRS is complying w/ Congressional requests
??? Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) June 16, 2014
If there wasn???t nefarious conduct that went higher than Lois Lerner, then why is the #IRS playing these games?
??? Darrell Issa (@DarrellIssa) June 16, 2014
CBS News had a meaty segment on the new IRS claims on Monday morning, including an appearance by Issa, who said “This is not about what you turn over. This is all about what you don’t turn over.”
The background clips run by CBS highlight another reason dragging out the IRS scandal has been a very effective defensive tactic: it becomes easier for Democrats to gum up the works by painting the whole thing as a partisan food fight, an angle media outlets have almost universally played up when bother to mention this story at all. The headline is always about how “Republicans blast the IRS for claims that emails were lost in hard drive crash.”
It would be harder for Democrats to frame this as a purely partisan squabble if the news was exploding rapidly across a span of days or weeks; they’d be obliged to say something. (Note the clip in the CBS report of the Democrats’ chief saboteur, Rep. Elijah Cummings – himself an important figure in the scandal, as we know thanks to correspondence he managed to keep secret for quite a while – yammering that it’s not a big scandal because Republicans can’t produce any smoking-gun links to the White House. Well, what do you know… the smoking-gun armory blew up when Lerner’s hard drive crashed!)
Well, at least the good liberal soldiers over at MSNBC have the Administration’s back on this “hard drive crash” story, right?
Ouch. But it won’t matter much in the long run, because the Administration will say something about how it plans to put together documentation on the hard-drive crash and salvage all those tragically vaporized emails, and that will be good enough for the faithful – Why won’t those Republican scandal-mongers just give the Administration a chance to make good on its latest promises of transparency? – until another year passes, and House Oversight puts out a “One Year Later, We’ll Still Waiting” press release, and media talking heads pronounce the whole situation mildly disappointing.
As it happens, House Oversight just released a report demonstrating that no smoking-gun directives from the White House were necessary to weaponize the IRS and turn it against the Tea Party movement. Everyone understood that Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular, despised the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and wanted a crackdown on political speech from the wrong sort of nonprofit group. Everyone knew which nonprofits were the wrong sort. As House Oversight notes, much of what the IRS did with respect to those Tea Party and pro-life groups was similar to the treatment they would have gotten from the Democrat Congress, if the House had not changed hands in 2010. It’s not conjecture that IRS officials, particularly Lois Lerner, knew what top Democrats were saying about these groups, and wanted to get involved in the crusade – it’s a matter of documented fact.
Which, as Rep. Issa pointed out, makes it all the more interesting that a dog would suddenly choose this moment to eat Lois Lerner’s homework.
Update: The IRS is now claiming that backups of its mail server data are only kept for six months, they weren’t backing up individual personal computers, and it was left to the discretion of officials such as Lerner whether they filed hardcopy backups of their messages, in accordance with agency guidelines. I suspect the quest for documentation on Lerner’s catastrophic hard drive failure will now spin off into a separate sub-scandal that grinds along for months, as the original scandal fades further into history.
Update: Also not buying the IRS story: CNN. The overall tone of the reporting on this is flippant bemusement, not incandescent outrage. Granted that it’s so absurd you can’t help but make a few jokes… but I can’t help thinking the editorial tone of the reporting would be a bit different if this was all coming from a Republican Administration. But of course, if this was a story about Republicans using the IRS as a weapon against progressive groups, it would have been reported as the biggest story in history, and there would have been violence in the streets.