Federal judge demands IRS explain lost Lerner emails - under oath
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has ordered the IRS to file a declaration in 30 days, under oath, explaining the issues surrounding the loss of thousands of emails belonging to Lois Lerner, as well as explaning why the documents are not retrievable.
The decision came Thursday as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which along with GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has questioned how the IRS lost the emails and, in some cases, had no apparent way to retrieve them.
The IRS first acknowledged it lost the emails in a letter to senators last month.
"In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. "The Department of Justice, the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation ... to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost."
The IRS says it lost the emails in 2011 when Lerner's computer crashed. At the time, Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She has since retired.
During the court hearing, Sullivan indicated he wanted the portion of the declaration on the computer issues to be wide-ranging, saying "that's about as broad as I can make it."
It also emerged at the status hearing that a Treasury Department inspector general probe into the matter is underway.
The lawyer representing the IRS, Geoffrey Klimas, argued that any further discovery in this case might impede the IG's investigation.
Sullivan seemed leery of that argument and also asked that the IRS official speak to that subject in the explanation the agency submits.
Further, Sullivan ordered that the IRS official explain how Lerner's files may be recovered through "other sources."
I wouldn't trust an Obama-appointed IG to get to the truth of anything, so Sullivan's order and the resulting IRS explanation should make for interesting reading.
More than the lost emails, the agency's explanation for why they can't do what many tech experts say they should be able to do - retrieve the documents - could be the biggest news to come out of the publication of the declaration. They may be able to finesse the computer crashes with legal mumbo-jumbo. But trying to come up with a technical explanation that will satisfy the judge regarding their inability to recover the documents will likely be their Achilles heel.