Does the IRS actually have their backups for e-mail from the period when Lois Lerner and her group targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny on tax-exempt applications? The agency claimed a month ago that it overwrote the tapes every six months, in one of the most notorious (and unsuccessful) Friday afternoon document dumps ever. New testimony from one of the IRS’ top lawyers released last night by the House Oversight Committee casts doubt on that story (via Instapundit):

The IRS might not have lost the backups of former agency administrator Lois Lerner’s emails after all, according to a top IRS official.

In testimony released Monday, Thomas Kane, the IRS’s deputy associate chief counsel, told House Oversight investigators last week that the agency was examining whether all the back-up tapes which held the emails have been recycled.

The IRS told lawmakers in June that the tapes had been recycled, one of the reasons that an untold number of Lerner’s emails were missing. Since then, the IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, has repeatedly stood by those statements in congressional testimony.

But Kane, the top IRS official in charge of producing documents for Congress, said on Thursday that: “I don’t know if there is a backup tape with information on it or there isn’t. I know that there’s an issue out there about it.” …

In the transcript released by Issa, Kane also insists that the IRS believed that the tapes had been recycled when it told Congress more than a month ago that it couldn’t recover all of Lerner’s emails. He doesn’t say why that might not be the case anymore.

At some point, this begins to look like trolling. We have them! We don’t have them! We may have them, but … er … we don’t know!

This is the IRS — the one agency that intimidates every American into keeping every receipt they have for a rolling seven years. They’ve had more than a year to locate and secure these communication records, and they just spent the last month taking a very public beating over the loss of their backups and the mysterious epidemic of hard-drive failures. After all of that, the IRS still hasn’t figured out whether they have the data or not?

This is one of the best arguments for the flat-tax system ever.

Speaking of Koskinen, ranking Oversight member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) believes the IRS Commissioner to be the sympathetic character in this little drama of incompetence and corruption. Despite the fact that Oversight can’t get a straight answer that sticks out of the IRS and hard drives are failing at a high rate among Lerner associates, Cummings wants the committee to stop picking on Mr. No Apologies:

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter Monday to ChairmanDarrell Issa, R-Calif., objecting to a decision to call Commissioner John Koskinen to testify at a hearing on Wednesday. It would be the third time Koskinen appeared before the panel in the past month, Cummings noted.

“Requiring Commissioner Koskinen to testify again this week not only takes him away from the day-to-day duties of operating an agency with 90,000 employees, but it also diverts our Committee from conducting responsible oversight on many key areas that traditionally have been part of our jurisdiction,” Cummings said in the letter. …

An Issa spokesman said Cummings has wanted to end the probe into the IRS targeting for a year, despite evidence suggesting wrongdoing by the agency.

”Despite efforts by the Ranking Member to obstruct fact-based oversight, Commissioner Koskinen actually informed the subcommittee that he would be available to testify on this date back on July 3,” the spokesman said. “On July 9, he even appeared in front of another Oversight subcommittee despite the fact that the Commissioner – and not the Committee – had asked if he could testify.”

Koskinen’s earlier testimony has been at least partially rebutted, and it appears that either Koskinen didn’t tell the truth or is ignorant about what is going on in his own organization — despite the high priority Congress has placed on this inquiry. That is certainly worth another trip to Capitol Hill for Koskinen, as well as providing answers on basic questions such as these on the hard-drive-failure epidemic sweeping the IRS. Cummings’ attempt to turn Koskinen into a victim is just the latest joke in the Democratic pratfall of attempted obstruction in this investigation.

Wonder when the first GOP ad hitting Democrats for rushing to defend the IRS will hit the airwaves? Or has it already?