Lois Lerner's IRS e-mails turn out to be not so lost

Despite the sworn testimony of IRS commissioner John Koskinen that backup tapes are recycled after 6 months, backup tapes containing up to 30,000 e-mails from Lois Lerner’s “crashed” computer have been uncovered by the U.S. Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA).  The Washington Examiner reports that TIGTA

… informed congressional staffers from several committees on Friday that the emails were found among hundreds of “disaster recovery tapes” that were used to back up the IRS email system.

“They just said it took them several weeks and some forensic effort to get these emails off these tapes,” a congressional aide told the Washington Examiner. (snip)

The missing emails extend from 2009 to 2011, a period when Lerner headed the IRS’s exempt-organizations division. The emails were lost when Lerner’s computer crashed, IRS officials said earlier this year.

Recall that earlier this month, the IRS admitted in a court filing that it hadn’t even searched the backup tapes:

IRS attorneys conceded that they had failed to search the agency’s servers for missing emails because they decided that “the servers would not result in the recovery of any information.” They admitted they had failed to search the aTA office gency’s disaster recovery tapes because they had “no reason to believe that the tapes are a potential source of recovering” the missing emails.  And they conceded that they had not searched the government-wide back-up system because they had “no reason to believe such a system … even exists.”

That turns out to be a bald-faced lie.  The TIGTA staff, independent of the IRS bureaucrats, were able to do what the agency termed impossible.  Of course, information technology experts had already called BS on the IRS for its feigned inability to recover what it desperately wanted to be lost.  And recall that the IRS canceled the backup contract for e-mails just weeks after Lerner claimed that her computer “crashed.”

There may be more to come, as the task of combing through a huge number of disaster recovery tapes is still ongoing:

In all, investigators from the inspector general’s office combed through 744 disaster recovery tapes. They are not finished looking.

There are 250 million emails on the tapes that will be reviewed. Officials said it is likely they will find missing emails from other IRS officials who worked under Lerner and who said they suffered computer crashes.

Suspicious minds may wonder if, given the amount of time that has lapsed, the e-mails may have been redacted by IRS officials operating in cover-up mode.  I think this is unlikely because:

  1. the sheer number of backup tapes and e-mails involved would require a lot of hours, meaning that a large number of people would be involved, meaning many people who must remain silent;
  2. a cover-up of subpoenaed material is a serious crime, a career-ending and prison-sentencing matter for technically skilled people with little skin in the game when it comes to Lerner’s career;
  3. It would require a high level of technical sophistication to avoid leaving digital fingerprints.  Points 1 and 2 mean that recruiting such sophisticated people (who obviously have many other career options than the IRS) would be rather difficult.

Rep. Issa, who has been in the lead investigating the matter, is being cautious:

“Though it is unclear whether TIGTA has found all of the missing Lois Lerner e-mails, there may be significant information in this discovery,” Issa told the Examiner. “The Oversight Committee will be looking for information about her mindset and who she was communicating with outside the IRS during a critical period of time when the IRS was targeting conservative groups. This discovery also underscores the lack of cooperation Congress has received from the IRS. The agency first failed to disclose the loss to Congress and then tried to declare Lerner’s e-mails gone and lost forever. Once again it appears the IRS hasn’t been straight with Congress and the American people.”

It would be nice if the task of combing through the e-mails could be crowd-sourced, the e-mails posted online, and the public invited to sort through them, but I doubt that it could be accomplished.  There may well be confidential information on them.

Still, I am optimistic that Lois Lerner may have been frank and indiscreet in her e-mail communication.  Thirty thousand emails over a period of 2-3 years means dozens of e-mails per workday.

If smoking-gun e-mails are uncovered proving that Lerner, possibly in collusion with higher-ups, used the IRS to suppress political opposition to the president, the scandal will be enormous and should justify impeachment talk.  But what I am most hopeful for is not impeachment, but fundamental tax reform.  Including abolishing the hopelessly corrupted IRS and its replacement with a sales or value-added tax-collecting much smaller agency under the next administration, which will be elected to clean up the mess Obama has created.

Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Speaking of which, sweet dreams and happy Thanksgiving, Lois.  You’ve got quite a 2015 to look forward to.

Update: Satirical Analysis posts this (hat tip: Clarice Feldman):

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