The lesson of Watergate has not gone unheeded in the federal bureaucracy even more than forty years later. At the time, many wondered why Richard Nixon didn’t burn the tapes as investigators circled the White House. These days, the trick is to burn the e-mails, and it’s not just happening at the IRS. A probe into Hatch Act violations at the Federal Election Commission ran aground when the electronic communications of the suspect — a former colleague of Lois Lerner — had her computer hard drive “recycled.”
The Federal Election Commission recycled the computer hard drive of April Sands — a former co-worker of Lois Lerner’s — hindering an investigation into Sands’ partisan political activities, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Sands resigned from the Federal Election Commission in April after she admitted to violating the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities on federal time and at federal facilities.
The twist is that Sands also worked under Lois Lerner when the ex-IRS agent — who is currently embroiled in a scandal over the targeting of conservative political groups — worked at the FEC’s enforcement division.
The FEC has a far-reaching mandate into the operations of elections, which means that partisanship in that agency is particularly corrosive. The Hatch Act requires strict neutrality of all federal employees while on duty, and one would expect that to be particularly observed in the FEC. Instead, Sands tweeted partisan messages from her office in 2012; sent out fundraising pleas for Obama’s re-election campaign, called Republicans her “enemy,” and said they should shut up and “stand down.”
When the Inspector General came knocking, however, the evidence had vanished. The FEC “recycled” her hard drive, which meant that criminal charges could not be pursued. How exactly could this have happened? Sands was under suspicion of a crime under a statute which would be updated later that year, in a bill signed by Barack Obama himself. Shouldn’t the FEC have taken steps to secure evidence rather than destroy it?
House Oversight chair Darrell Issa also notes in his letter to FEC chair Lee Goodman that the destruction of evidence may have impacted his committee’s probe into the IRS, noting Lerner’s penchant for keeping in touch with former staffers such as Sands at the FEC, where Lerner worked before moving to the IRS. Given the political nature of Lerner’s work and Sands’ flagrant flaunting of the Hatch Act, there may at least have been the possibility of some coordination between Lerner and Sands, which thanks to the epidemic of hard-drive destruction in the Obama administration will now be lost.
Issa now wants Goodman to produce all of the data surrounding the destruction of evidence at the FEC, and wants it by July 28th. How many more hard drives will get “recycled” at the FEC between then and now? The sky’s the limit in the Obama administration.