Time for a special prosecutor on IRS after “lost” e-mails?
posted at 2:31 pm on June 14, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
It’s been more than 400 days since the IRS targeting scandal broke, and longer than that since the Inspector General started its probe of the tax-exempt office and their alleged political bias. Members of Congress had asked IRS officials more than two years ago about puzzling delays in applications from conservative groups. Yet, according to the Obama administration, only yesterday did the IRS get around to confirming that a supposed computer crash had wiped out two years of e-mail history from Lois Lerner and her group, after months of being under subpoena to supply it.
Needless to say, members of Congress aren’t buying this latest dog-ate-my-homework excuse:
Congressional investigators are fuming over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy.
The IRS said Lois Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, wiping out an untold number of emails that were being sought by congressional investigators. The investigators want to see all of Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2013 as part of their probe into the way agents handled applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups. …
“Do they really expect the American people to believe that, after having withheld these emails for a year, they’re just now realizing the most critical time period is missing?” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “If there wasn’t nefarious conduct that went much higher than Lois Lerner in the IRS targeting scandal, why are they playing these games?” …
If anyone in the Obama administration outside the agency was involved, investigators were hoping for clues in 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’ response to congressional inquiries,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the inspector general.”
This excuse doesn’t even make sense, as anyone who has experience in network and e-mail administration can easily attest. E-mail records aren’t preserved only on individual computers, but on network servers. The relevant files would be kept on the servers or on backup media, which would have data for the whole organization and not just a single user. That was true when I did network administration in the early 1990s, and it’s most certainly even more true now. And it’s especially true in organizations that require data storage and full retrieval capacity by statute — such as federal agencies like the IRS.
If such a crash occurred, it would have affected much more than just Lerner — and would have produced a significant response when it happened. Gabriel Malor wonders where the records of such a failure are:
IRS produced the IT department and Helpdesk logs to document Lerner's "computer crash," right? Right?
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 14, 2014
By the way, the FBI does great work in restoring data from crashed hard drives. They should also be able to restore most if not all of Lois Lerner’s e-mails in and out of the IRS, if the IRS’ nonsensical claims that this data loss only affected Lerner are even remotely true, by drilling into the archives of every other person’s e-mail in Treasury, Justice, and the White House. After all, Lerner didn’t just post notes on a bulletin board, but sent e-mails to others and had replies back from them. I’d bet that the FBI would do that in a significant criminal investigation if necessary, and the IRS would do it in a heartbeat if it suspected a corporation of tax evasion and was told that the emails for one particular executive were “lost.”
Ron Fournier writes that it’s time for a special prosecutor to deal with the Obama administration excuses in the IRS scandal:
A sloppy mistake, the government calls it, but you couldn’t blame a person for suspecting a cover-up — the loss of an untold number of emails to and from the central figure in the IRS tea party controversy. And, because the public’s trust is a fragile gift that the White House has frittered away in a series of second-term missteps, President Obama needs to act.
If the IRS can’t find the emails, maybe a special prosecutor can. …
The White House is stonewalling the IRS investigation. The most benign explanation is that Obama’s team is politically expedient and arrogant, which makes them desperate to change the subject, and convinced of their institutional innocence. That’s bad enough. But without a fiercely independent investigation, we shouldn’t assume the explanation is benign.
I’m old enough to remember when Karl Rove’s use of his personal e-mail to get around the retention requirements for the Bush administration was bandied about as nearly an impeachable offense. Now we have this laughable excuse for not producing records in a case of abuse of executive power against political opponents of the President. Somehow, it’s a little difficult for people to even consider that the stonewalling is benign, let alone the insult to the intelligence that this excuse is.
I’m also old enough to remember when an 18.5-minute gap on a tape was prima facie evidence of obstruction of justice. So is Roger Kimball, for that matter, who asks which is worse — 18.5 minutes of erased tape, or two years of erased e-mails?
Update: It’s been nearly 20 years since I did any serious network-administration work (outside of call-center systems), but The Blaze has six reasons from a current IT professional why the IRS story is nonsense.