On Wednesday, House Republicans revealed that at least one Internal Revenue Service official believes that it is possible that the agency did not “recycle” all of the hardware and backup tapes on which were stored former IRS executive Lois Lerner’s missing emails. This development may contradict testimony from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who told members of Congress that none of Lerner’s emails could be recovered.
The claim came from Stephen Manning, an IRS IT official, and Todd Egaas, director of technology operations and investigative services for the tax collection agency. Both testified in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. last week about the IRS’s efforts to collect and recover data from Lerner’s hard drive.
According to Washington Post reporter Josh Hicks, both officials’ testimony suggests that Lerner’s emails may still be out there.
The IRS apparently created a help-desk ticket for Lerner on June 13, 2011, when her hard drive crashed. According to that ticket, a “mid-level specialist” attempted to recover the data that was damaged on Lerner’s hard drive, but it was unrecoverable.
The following months, the hard drive was sent to the IRS’s forensics division where, according to Egaas’ testimony, “all of the analyst’s attempts” to recover Lerner’s lost data were unsuccessful.
Manning added that, once it had been determined that the data on Lerner’s hard drive was unrecoverable, it was magnetically erased and subjected to IRS disposal and recycling procedures.
However, the officials’ testimony left open the possibility that Lerner’s emails may still exist on other hard drives that were not scrubbed.
* The hard-drive crash occurred with Lerner’s laptop. This may or may not be significant, as it leaves open the possibility that she may have stored e-mails on two hard drives — one from the laptop that crashed, and perhaps another from a desktop computer.
* Manning said Lerner’s laptop hard drive did not have a tracking code. He said the IRS does not place such codes on internal components. Nonetheless, the company that supplied the laptop recently provided the IRS with a serial number for the part. This is important because investigators could use the number to track down the device if it has not been destroyed.
Politico’s take on these revelations is instructive.
“Meanwhile, some tech professionals have suggested that the IRS, or the disposal company it worked with, should have an invoice or ‘certificate of destruction’ proving that Lerner’s email is really gone. Koskinen isn’t sure they have one,” the Beltway political publication reported on Thursday. “Although Koskinen said he’s interested to learn how the Treasury inspector general discovered tapes that “we were advised … were recycled,” he has not inquired further because TIGTA asked the IRS to leave the lost emails matter alone while it completes its probe.”
Koskinen told congressional investigators that he is not “not talking to any potential witnesses about what happened three years ago.”
That’s an important detail, but much of the story about the testimony of these two IRS officials was devoted to the politics of the IRS scandal. How can Republicans capitalize on the “optics” that they have going for them? How can Democrats deflect, obscure, and shield the White House from being linked to this controversy? It is clear that Washington still views the IRS scandal as a political imbroglio and not a pressing allegation of corruption and malfeasance.