Five years ago, Sonasoft promoted its data-retention services by claiming that the IRS trusted the company to back up its servers, and the agency contracted with Sonasoft for something until 2011. Last week, however, Sonasoft backed away from its 2009 claims, and now says that the contract never included services that would have archived e-mail servers (via Twitchy):

Sonasoft Corp., a leader in enterprise-class email archiving and eDiscovery tools, clarifies its role with the IRS and Sonasoft’s email archiving services. Sonasoft does not have IRS email. Sonasoft never had access to IRS email.

“We have a strong presence with the public sector as part of our customer base, which at one time included as a customer the IRS Counsel Division. …

“In regards to the IRS as one of Sonasoft’s customers, it is true that one Division within the IRS was Sonasoft’s customer from 2005 to 2011,” clarified Andy Khanna. “This Division was the IRS Counsel. The main branch of the IRS did not use Sonasoft’s software for its operations; only the IRS Counsel used our SonaExchange software, which is a Microsoft Exchange Server replication solution. This particular software allowed the IRS Counsel to replicate the email data by copying it to a remote server for disaster recovery and business continuity as a failover copy to take over if the main system failed. In the event that a client’s Microsoft Exchange Server went down, then end users could access the replicated data on the Microsoft Exchange Server quickly and efficiently. The IRS Counsel Division stopped using Sonasoft’s replication software in 2011.”

“To further clarify, no Division within IRS ever used Sonasoft’s email archiving software. Only a Division within the IRS used any Sonasoft product and that was our email replication software, not our archiving or backup software,” said Andy Khanna.

Phil Kerpen noted that this was a rather large oopsie for Sonasoft, considering its 2009 bragging:

There have been a number of curious reversals of late in the investigation of IRS targeting of the Obama administration’s political opponents, especially with the production of official records such as e-mail. This one should be fairly easy to resolve, at least in terms of the probe. The federal contract with Sonasoft and the payments made should be part of the public record, and the House Oversight Committee (or Ways and Means, which is performing a parallel probe) should be able to quickly determine whether Sonasoft is telling the truth about the contract scope and services rendered. Sonasoft’s credibility in its marketing will not be as easily remedied.

As for the rest, a consensus is building that this scandal requires an independent investigator who can operate outside the parameters of the Department of Justice and Congress. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s editorial board, a reliably liberal-progressive voice in the media, raised eyebrows yesterday by joining that consensus,  calling for a special prosecutor after the IRS’ convenient claims of lost e-mails:

The old caution against ascribing to malice what can be explained by incompetence is worth keeping in mind when evaluating a high-profile blunder in either the private or public sector, such as the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

But the latest twist in the long-running controversy — the eye-rollingly convenient loss of IRS e-mails — moves the needle from ineptitude and toward the other, more troubling end of the spectrum. While the lost e-mails aren’t definitive proof of an orchestrated effort by the IRS or the Obama administration, the recent news that thousands of e-mails were obliterated in a computer hard-drive crash in 2011 is tough to swallow, not only for technology professionals, but also for an increasingly tech-savvy public.

The Strib’s editorial board were decidedly unimpressed with John Koskinen’s arrogant dismissal of questions from Republicans on the panel, as well as the answers that Koskinen did provide:

The IRS expects Americans to hold onto receipts and other documents for years. The agency’s lackadaisical data management suggests a higher bar for the public than agency officials. That the IRS dallied in telling Congress about the lost e-mails raises further questions about what happened. Lerner’s unwillingness to testify is also troubling. And there’s the timing of her hard-drive crash, which came 10 days after a Republican congressman sent a June 3, 2011,letter to the agency inquiring about audits of donors to the type of organization that had come under extra scrutiny.

It was frustrating watching congressional hearings last week. New IRS Commissioner John Koskinen blew off concerns about the missing e-mails. Republicans’ understandable frustration yielded little new information. Few if any had the technical expertise needed to really sort out what happened.

A special prosecutor could compel stronger cooperation from the IRS, consult technology experts and bring charges if necessary. Appointing one is a necessary and reasonable step to ensure that the American people learn the truth.

No one will get to the truth without subpoenas, testimony under oath, and the threat of perjury and obstruction charges. That won’t happen with this DoJ running interference for the IRS and the White House.