Lerner e-mails likely gone forever, IRS claims, as hard drive was “thrown away”

posted at 10:41 am on June 19, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Old and busted: “The dog ate our e-mails.” New hotness: “The dog ate our e-mails, so we put him down.” The IRS announced last night — after a subpoena from House Oversight chair Darrell Issa — that Lois Lerner’s hard drive had been either “thrown away” or recycled, which means at least for the moment that none of her interagency e-mails can be recovered:

“We’ve been informed that the hard drive has been thrown away,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a brief hallway interview.

Two additional sources told POLITICO the same late Wednesday, citing IRS officials.

It may just be standard government procedure, but the revelation is significant because some lawmakers and observers thought there was a way that tech experts could revive Lerner’s emails after they were washed away in a computer crash in the summer of 2011. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), for example, subpoenaed her damaged hard drive earlier this week, when he asked for “all hard drives, external drives, thumb drives and computers” and “all electronic communication devices the IRS issued to Lois G. Lerner.”

“IT experts have weighed in and said yes — we can get those” emails, said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) earlier Wednesday.

The latest news suggests such professionals may never get the chance to try again — and the IRS has even said its criminal investigators who specialize in rebuilding hard drives to recover hidden information from criminals were unable to restore the data back in 2011. But this is only likely to further enrage Republicans, who are fuming over the matter and suspect Washington officials drove the selective scrutiny.

Eliana Johnson reports the same at NRO:

In the wake of the news that a computer crash destroyed over two years’ worth of Lois Lerner’s emails, House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa on Tuesday subpoenaed her hard drive. Unfortunately, according to a source in the IRS’ IT department, that subpoena is unlikely to turn up much.

As a matter of practice, says the source, the IRS discards damaged hard drives after wiping them of all data. ”If we can run them, we have to wipe them,” he says. If they will not run, the agency destroys them completely by magnetically degaussing them.

In both cases, the damaged hard drives are disposed of. “You’re not supposed to keep them around,” the source says. “You destroy the data.”

What. A. Coincidence! Much of Lerner’s intra-agency e-mail correspondence (that is, within the IRS) has been reconstituted through searches of others’ e-mails. However, Issa and Ways and Means chair Dave Camp specifically wanted the communications between Lerner and others outside the IRS — especially any potential e-mails between Lerner and the Department of Justice and the White House. Those e-mails, if they existed, might tend to shed some light on who ordered Lerner to conduct extra scrutiny of conservative tax-exempt applicants, and how high up the coordination went.

Without backups or the drives, those communications have been lost. Unless Lerner testifies, which she has so far refused to do, or unless the House subpoenas all executive-branch e-mails, they’re likely lost forever.

Ron Fournier has a question for editors:

That’s also the main theme of my column today at The Fiscal Times. Forty years ago, aggressive media investigation into executive-branch abuse of power — including the use of the IRS against political opponents — forced the only resignation of a US President in history. Today, the media seems a lot more interested in whether an obvious abuse of power against an administration’s political opponents has a high Q-rating, or whether we should give the IRS even more resources after this scandal:

Missing tapes? Abuse of power? It’s 1974 all over again, with one exception – there seems to be no Woodward and Bernstein interested in delving into an abuse of power and a cover-up. …

With all of these red flags and roadblocks on transparency, one might think that the media might start getting a little more interested in the scope of this abuse of power. Instead, the only curiosity appears to be whether this all means that the IRS should get even more money in its budget, because tape backups for more than six months apparently breaks the bank in an agency that gets $11.3 billion in the FY2014 budget. …

Perhaps the hue and cry over the lost funding will finally start to interest the media forty years after their tenacity over abuse of executive power forced accountability on a corrupt administration.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed since Watergate – and a lot hasn’t.

The IRS has a high stink rating in terms of corruption and cover-up, and perhaps an even higher stink rating among the media for their disinterest in the ridiculous excuses coming from this administration in their attempt to stonewall Congress.


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Hmm, what a shame, the IRS, we are to believe, keeps no backups of anything beyond six months, except on a format prone to inevitable failure, at which point the drive and its data are simply thrown away.

So I guess we just need to subpoena the email archives of everyone else in the IRS to access their side of the correspondence.

Yeah, bet you thought we forgot that email goes between two or more parties, huh?

The Schaef on June 19, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Where’s the outrage?!

This is SOP. It has always been SOP which is why Nixon, correctly, said “I’m not a crook” – he played the game as it was not the democrat ideological version that they themselves don’t adhere to.

Skywise on June 19, 2014 at 2:28 PM

An honest and enterprising journalist (ha! good luck with finding those today, it seems…) could ask the IRS if they are less competent at storing & retrieving email than Palin’s Alaska administration.

In 2011, the emails from her gov. tenure (2006-2008) were released. They are still available on the LA Times website:

http://documents.latimes.com/sarah-palin-emails/

Sample question: “One of the most remote state governments in the country was able to retain email archives from 2006-2008, and release them 3 years later in 2011. As one of the largest federal agencies, the Internal Revenue Service has a large budget and a compelling need for information storage and data accuracy. Why can’t they produce all emails from one of their leaders covering the past few years?”

cs89 on June 19, 2014 at 2:37 PM

SO, I guess we get to assume that there was incriminating evidence, all the way to Obama’s desktop and phone and pen.

Clearly there was fraud committed here, in addition to a failure to respond to discovery.

I’m still calling B.S. that these specific emails from these specific individuals all went away at the same exact time.

I’m guessing Lerner or someone has them stored away on a CD or USB drive or someplace else…just their version of ‘get out of jail free’ card since it probably, I believe, implicates Obama, members of his staff and perhaps others in the Liberal ‘leadership.’

ProfShadow on June 19, 2014 at 2:55 PM

Still wrong. The data itself could be corrupted or purposely deleted and RAID will still not save you here. RAID 0 for instance is just striping data across disks, you lose a disk you lose the entire array as there’s no mirror or parity to rebuild a missing drive.

RAID 1 is a mirrored drive. It will protect against drive failure but has no way in knowing that changes in data are incidental, accidental, malicious, or intended. It only keeps a system up if there is a drive failure.

RAID sets with parity (RAID 4, 5, 6, RAID-DP) are only to protect against a drive failure, that’s it. Anything else that could affect data at rest, be it intentional or incidental can still happen.

Not defending the IRS, as a storage guy, the misconception that RAID backs up your data is wrong.

Lay-Z on June 19, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Thanks. What I was trying to say is that a hard drive failure on the server side was very very unlikely because they probably use RAID drives.

You are correct – backup storage is a different issue and one that is probably also used by the IRS.

Although I think the IRS at this point is claiming that they only keep email backups for 6 months.

One wonders why it took 2 years for the IRS to respond to Congressional requests for these emails to finally say they disappeared in a non-backed up hard drive failure.

gwelf on June 19, 2014 at 3:02 PM

So ask her under oath who she was corresponding with in those emails and subpoena THEIR computers! If we’re lucky, we’ll pull enough of them off line that they won’t be able to do any “business as usual” ever again.

UnderstandingisPower on June 19, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Ed,

What they claim:
Lois Lerner was instructed to store the emails locally on her computer and to delete those emails from the server to make room in her MS exchange email account.

The IRS rotated tape backups instead of archiving the tapes to save money.

Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive was broken

Reality:
If Lois Lerner was instructed to store emails locally to make room on her computer why did she choose to delete the emails from 2009-2011 but keep the emails from 2001-2009 and emails from 2011 onward? That alone makes zero sense.

The IRS uses a tape robot. Most likely it is something similar to a HP LTO6 tape robot. One LTO6 tape stores 6.5TB of information and costs $50. 106,000 people work for the IRS. The average person does 120 emails per day at an average of 75kb per email. That works out to less than 1TB of emails per day. So $50 (one LTO6) to backup and archive all IRS emails per week. Federal law requires that agencies archive all data, in duplicate, and store offsite. All data is to be retransferred every 10 years to the latest storage/archival media available. So double that and it costs the entire IRS $100 a week to archive it’s emails in accordance to federal law… a law in place since the 60′s. The IT guys broke federal law to save the IRS $5200 a year in tape archives? Really?

The email servers have a log. That log will contain sender and receiver information. Those accounts can be searched. Since they are employee accounts a subpoena is unnecessary to find the second party involved in communication with Lois Lerner between 2009-2011. In fact all federal agencies could easily be searched for email to and from Lois Lerner. So if the IRS server doesn’t have the email the DOJ server does assuming there was contact with the DOJ.

More importantly it would be easy as pie to discover WHEN those emails were deleted from the IRS servers.

It is almost impossible that the hard drive in Lois Lerner’s computer was unrecoverable. Most hard drive failures occur in the motor or ball bearing. The second most common is a failure of the pcb boards on the hard drive. HD platters only become damaged if the hard drive is violently dropped, burnt, punctured, or opened in a dirty room full of metal shavings. The chances of a hard drive’s head scratching the platters is highly unlikely and still all the sectors that went untouched would still be recoverable.

All in all, the email is not lost and the people involved are lying.

dougless on June 19, 2014 at 3:06 PM

Typo : If Lois Lerner was instructed to store emails locally to make room in her email account stored on the server why did she choose to delete the emails from 2009-2011 but keep the emails from 2001-2009 and emails from 2011 onward? That alone makes zero sense.

dougless on June 19, 2014 at 3:08 PM

If Lois Lerner was instructed to store emails locally to make room in her email account stored on the server why did she choose to delete the emails from 2009-2011 but keep the emails from 2001-2009 and emails from 2011 onward? That alone makes zero sense.

dougless on June 19, 2014 at 3:08 PM

It makes perfect sense if you are trying to cover your tracks for illegal activity performed from 2009-2011.

dominigan on June 19, 2014 at 3:40 PM

The chickenshxt media won’t cover this because they realize this is the one scandal that touches everyone and the one in which anyone can see through the lies.

polly2150 on June 19, 2014 at 3:40 PM

You are all so silly. EVERYBODY knows that things like this only matter if Republicans are in power. Democrats couldn’t be corrupt – just like they can’t be racists.

famous amos on June 19, 2014 at 3:51 PM

You are all so silly. EVERYBODY knows that things like this only matter if Republicans are in power. Democrats couldn’t be corrupt – just like they can’t be racists.

Who wants a cookie? Not even a smidgen of calories……

famous amos on June 19, 2014 at 3:52 PM

If Lois Lerner was instructed to store emails locally to make room in her email account stored on the server why did she choose to delete the emails from 2009-2011 but keep the emails from 2001-2009 and emails from 2011 onward? That alone makes zero sense.

dougless on June 19, 2014 at 3:08 PM

Oh, I dunno… Everyone keeps saying that none of this makes any sense.

I think it all makes perfect sense as long as you are willing to believe that the IRS is a criminal enterprise run by people who belong in prison. And at this point, THAT is pretty easy to believe.

climbnjump on June 19, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Why couldn’t the House request the NSA to search for Lois Lerner’s emails?

hawksruleva on June 19, 2014 at 4:20 PM

Are there no decent employees at the IRS who can show Congress just exactly how to retrieve these records? From what I heard on Rush today it is impossible to lose these records. This isn’t your home or office PC. This is the IRS!

neyney on June 19, 2014 at 4:23 PM

Issa? All flame and no heat, that goof can’t ever get to the finish line, all he does is bloviate and then have everything filed away.

Bishop on June 19, 2014 at 11:48 AM

^^^This. In spades.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to predict that he accepts the IRS’ egregiously lame excuse: “The investigation as gone as far as it possibly can. In light of this unfortunate loss of potential evidence, I see no means by which this committee can reach a conclusion with this investigation; therefore, I find no reason to continue.

Obama’s got ‘em all by the short curlies with blackmail, it would seem.

Dime IV on June 19, 2014 at 4:27 PM

Why couldn’t the House request the NSA to search for Lois Lerner’s emails?

hawksruleva on June 19, 2014 at 4:20 PM

The NSA would not take orders from Congress. I do believe they have the emails though. All of them.

slickwillie2001 on June 19, 2014 at 4:33 PM

I was just raging about this in the top section. I’m claiming collusion on the part of Issa and the Rs. I know it’s totally tin foil hatish of me but here is the deal; the onus is on the Rs to prove my theory wrong because if the “outing” of Plame was a scandal with legs then this is the freaking NYC marathon. If the Rs can’t make anything out of this it means that they AREN’T TRYING.

I want to be proven wrong but when Issa makes tepid comments about how “this dosen’t happen” it only reinforces my theory. OK “it doesn’t happen” NOW WHAT?!? … nothing …

BoxHead1 on June 19, 2014 at 11:25 AM

I’m afraid it appears that the Republicans are letting the Democrats do some of their dirty work for them.

bigGwillie on June 19, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Are there no decent employees at the IRS who can show Congress just exactly how to retrieve these records? From what I heard on Rush today it is impossible to lose these records. This isn’t your home or office PC. This is the IRS!

neyney on June 19, 2014 at 4:23 PM

This, precisely. If there is not one single solitary person in the IRS with enough integrity to step forward on this matter, the IRS MUST be abolished, and all their offices burned to the ground.

PointnClick on June 19, 2014 at 5:09 PM

Since Outlook is the IRS’ mail client, it is likely that Exchange is their server-side mail system. Those emails are not gone unless they didn’t back up the servers.

And, as someone else mentioned, any emails that went to the White House are subject to different retention rules, and almost certainly still exist.

Time for a new subpoena, Congress!

TxSaintFan on June 19, 2014 at 6:39 PM

So does this mean that they don’t have my tax records from 6 months ago?

COgirl on June 19, 2014 at 7:12 PM

How about we all put our taxes in an escrow account untill the IRS comes clean.

jpcpt03 on June 19, 2014 at 7:37 PM

If I were Lois Lerner I would have a copy of emails to and from the WH and Justice, and I would have them in a secure location under the care of someone I trusted to release them should any misfortune befall me.

claudius on June 19, 2014 at 9:16 PM

If I were Lois Lerner I would have a copy of emails to and from the WH and Justice, and I would have them in a secure location under the care of someone I trusted to release them should any misfortune befall me.

That’s a very real possibility if that bird (vulture) decides to sing.

dougless on June 19, 2014 at 9:38 PM

If you have to ask where the outrage is, then any outrage shown will be too little, too late, and very faux.

eclark1849 on June 20, 2014 at 12:39 AM

There are people who should end up in prison for this, but, of course, there won’t be.

zoyclem on June 20, 2014 at 7:48 AM

It is not over by a long shot. She is not off the hook.

Amazingoly on June 20, 2014 at 8:36 AM

It is not over by a long shot. She is not off the hook.

Amazingoly on June 20, 2014 at 8:36 AM

No kidding…this is like swordfishing. These IRS-WH-FEC-DOJ-FBI guys and gals are getting hooked and dragged for miles with all the other predators in the sea taking a bite. Good. That’s what you get for making enemies of the people.

This story is far from over

gracie on June 20, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Much of Lerner’s intra-agency e-mail correspondence (that is, within the IRS) has been reconstituted through searches of others’ e-mails

Now the We need all inter-agency emails for Lerner and the other 6 suspects whose emails were “lost”. Get the emails or get the White House on record as denying they exist, claiming more disk crashes or other computer errors, or claiming executive privilege.

For a list of which agencies just ask the founder of True The Vote for the list of federal agencies that suddenly decided they needed to audit her business.

Nomas on June 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM

First off, before I begin, I’m going to say that those emails exist, somewhere, in a backup. Someone is hiding them. They exist. While I don’t have hard proof, I find it impossible to believe otherwise.

I’m going to make some comments about the IRS systems. Some of these comments are obvious, some, not so much. Money IS a major problem, here. We’ve had actual cuts (not reduction in growth pseudo-cuts) of over 20%, and with the current budget that’s coming out of the House, over 30%, versus ’09. This is while adding multiple ID Theft programs (because hey, biggest fraud scheme in the nation), and being saddled with ZeroCare.

At the core of the IRS IT-monstrosity is our main system. It’s an ancient system written in the 60′s in a dead language that only a handful of programmers understand anymore. The entire system is undocumented, and no one truly knows how it all works. On top of that system, there are at least 15 more systems, and about 80 tools (that I know of) that interact with that system and each other to interface with everything and translate the data into comprehensible terms. Then, you also have Exchange, MS OC, ASPECT, and several other communication systems built on top of that.

The entire system is a nightmare, and Congress is not making it easier to deal with. They have the ability to budget us as detailed as they like…they need to take about $3 billion (yes, a quarter of our ’09 budget) and break it out like this: 1 to building a new base computer system, in a modern database that’s more secure and easier to utilize. 1 to scanning and electronically storing all of the backup paper files we have (which cost approx $250 million+ per year to store, between buildings, climate control, restoration work, and file management, which usually sucks so bad they can’t find anything anyhow). This second one, by the way, would reduce a quarter-billion-a-year expense to around a million a year, once completed, paying for itself in a few years. And 1 to training (Google the TAS testimony to the Oversight committee…when some departments are having their training budgets cut by 98%, and the least-affected department suffers a 74% actual cut in training time, there’s no wonder our error rate has increased by more than 10%). And then take the ZeroCare enforcement AWAY from us! WE DON’T WANT IT!

Hmm…interesting little tidbit on 0Care enforcement, by the way. Did you know that, thanks to 0Care, starting in 2015, your tax return is going to visit HHS, then DHS, and only then will the IRS get it? Why the hell is DHS (Yes, Homeland Freakin’ Security) even involved?

Asurea on June 20, 2014 at 10:28 AM

Oh, unmentioned costs of 0Care:
New forms for reporting premium costs that have to be filed for each taxpayer, each month, by the insurer to HHS: 96,000,000,000 (96 billion). Number of forms HHS has to duplicate that onto, and forward to the IRS and taxpayer: same number. Number of forms taxpayers have to fill out, with that exact information, for each month: 8,000,000,000 (8 billion). So a total of 200 billion new forms that have to be filled out and mailed around…and to make it worse (Yes, Lucy, it DOES get worse!), if you don’t fill these forms out exactly right, your entire return is rejected and not processed. Supposedly. None of the systems to actually do any of this are in place, yet.

Asurea on June 20, 2014 at 10:39 AM

I am sure they looked real hard for it also.

gwhh on June 21, 2014 at 10:31 AM

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