The IRS last week sent a letter explaining how it lost some of former employee Lois G. Lerner’s emails from 2009 through 2011, including some from her communications with Democrats in Congress or with other federal agencies, drawing a stern rebuke from Republicans.
The agency blamed a computer crash for the mishap, saying it has tried to collect as many emails as possible.
But Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said it shouldn’t have taken a year for the IRS to tell Congress that it didn’t have all of Ms. Lerner’s emails.
“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,” Mr. Camp said. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.”
Ms. Lerner ran the division that gave unwarranted scrutiny into tea party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status. She retired from the agency last year while under scrutiny for her actions.
Republicans believe her emails will show the extent of the government’s efforts to target the tea party.
Ms. Lerner herself, in some emails that were turned over to Congress, describes some of the files lost in the 2011 hard drive crash as “irreplaceable.”
The IRS said it still has been able to collect 24,000 Lerner emails from the time period in question that it has turned over or will be providing, as part of a total production of 67,000 emails that Ms. Lerner either sent or received.
It’s part of a massive effort to get to the bottom of the tea party targeting.
“The IRS has made unprecedented efforts in connection with this effort, producing more than 750,000 pages of documents to help complete the investigations. In total, the IRS’s efforts to respond to Congress have involved more than 250 IRS employees working more than 120,000 hours at a direct cost of nearly $10 million,” the agency said in a statement.
But Mr. Camp said the emails lost were “critical years” from the beginning of the targeting of conservative groups.
He said the White House must now get involved and demand other federal departments and agencies scour their records for emails to or from Ms. Lerner, since those records will not be available from the IRS.
“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,” Mr. Camp said. “Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone.”
The IRS said Ms. Lerner tried to have her hard drive recovered when it crashed in 2011, which was well before the tea party scandal broke and before her emails became a subject of controversy. But the technical staff was unable to recover the data, saying those sectors of the drive had gone bad.
In lieu of her hard drive, the agency went to other agency employees and had them search their files for any emails they might have been included on along with Ms. Lerner.
That’s how they managed to recover the 24,000 emails from that time period.
Still, those are only IRS emails and wouldn’t include messages solely between Ms. Lerner and those in other departments or in Congress.
In a letter Friday to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has issued a subpoena seeking IRS documents, said more than 1 million potentially responsive documents have yet to be produced.
“At this rate, the IRS‘ response to the committee’s subpoena will drag on for years,” Mr. Issa wrote.
He gave Mr. Koskinen until Wednesday to produce all of the documents still being withheld, and said if they aren’t turned over, his committee will look at ways to enforce the subpoena.
According to the agency, employees such as Ms. Lerner have some of their “active” emails stored on the IRS centralized network. The rest they can save in their email archive on their hard drive, but those are lost if the hard drive crashes.