IG: 'Potential criminal activity' in missing Lerner emails

The IRS inspector general has opened a criminal investigation into the disappearance of tens of thousands of emails belonging to former IRS manager Lois Lerner. The IRS claimed the emails were lost when Lerner's computer crashed. But the IG investigation shows that dozens of tapes containing the emails have been discovered with the recovery of about 32,000 emails so far.

Washington Times:

Investigators have already scoured 744 backup tapes and gleaned 32,774 unique emails, but just two weeks ago they found an additional 424 tapes that could contain even more Lerner emails, Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus told the House Oversight Committee in a rare late-night hearing meant to look into the status of the investigation.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Mr. Camus said.

He said they have also discovered the hard drives from the IRS’s email servers, but said because the drives are out of synch it’s not clear whether they will be able to recover anything from them.

“To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner’s email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails,” Mr. Camus said.

The IRS belatedly told Congress it may have lost some of Ms. Lerner's emails after her computer crashed, and asserted that the backup tapes didn't exist.

But under questioning from Mr. Chaffetz, Mr. Camus said it took him only two weeks to track down the backup tapes, and when he asked the IRS depository for them, the workers there said they'd never been contacted by the agency itself.

Republicans said that was stunning because IRS Commissioner John Koskinen repeatedly assured Congress the emails were irretrievably lost.

"I think they have misled or lied to the committee," said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.

Mr. Camus said they were clued in to the 424 new tapes they just found a couple of weeks ago after realizing the IRS hadn't given over a key document. They demanded that document, and realized it showed hundreds of other tapes existed.

Just who would be a target of a criminal probe? Certainly Lerner herself would head the list. The former chief of the tax exempt department at the IRS would have to consent to any scheme that sought to hide her emails from Congress. Otherwise, there are at least a half dozen high level IRS managers - including the director - who might be involved in spiriting away the emails and looking to hide the back up tapes from Congress and the IG.

This raises a tantalizing possibility; would Lois Lerner testify in exchange for immunity? Recall that Lerner took the 5th the first time she testified before Congress, even though there were no indications that criminal charges would be forthcoming. Did she know something at that time that no one else did?

Lerner is already in contempt of Congress - despite the fact that the Justice Department refuses to move on the charge. The missing emails may be the catalyst that would compel her testimony in exchange for staying out of jail. Republicans like oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa have already indicated that immunity for Lerner is a possibility. Whether members can make that happen if Lerner is indicted will depend on how serious the charges are and what inducements are offered to her for her testimony.