Government lawyers have told a watchdog group suing over the Internal Revenue Service scandal that Lois Lerner’s emails aren’t missing after all.
Attorneys for the Justice Department surprised Judicial Watch, a right-leaning watchdog group, on Friday by saying that they have copies of every electronic message ever sent from Lerner, a former top IRS official who is a key figure in a targeting scandal involving conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status.
The IRS told Congress that thousands of Lerner’s emails sent prior to 2011 were hopelessly lost thanks to a hard drive crash that left the data unrecoverable. A back-up system, they said, had also been erased. Officials told Congress about a half dozen IRS officials in addition to Lerner, some affiliated with the targeting, had also lost emails due to computer crashes.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Justice Department lawyers informed him that the federal government keeps a back-up copy of every email and record in the event of a government-wide catastrophe.
The back-up system includes the IRS emails, too.
“So, the emails may inconvenient to access, but they are not gone with the [broken] hard drive,” Judicial Watch spokeswoman Jill Farrell told the Washington Examiner.
Judicial Watch is now seeking the release of the emails, which Justice Department lawyers say would be hard to find because of the significant size of the backup system.
House lawmakers in May voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about accusations that she helped to orchestrate a targeting scheme against right-leaning and Tea Party groups applying for 501(c)(4) status.
House Republicans investigating the matter subpoenaed Lerner’s records and emails, but learned from the IRS in June that it had lost most of the emails she sent before 2011 because of the computer crash.
According to Fitton, the attorneys told him the backup system would be “too onerous to search,” but acknowledged that Treasury Department inspectors were investigating it.
“This is a jaw-dropping revelation,” Fitton said in a statement. “The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails.”
Justice Department officials have not yet responded to a request for comment by the Examiner.
Editor's note: Judicial Watch is representing the Washington Examiner in the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking access to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau records under FOIA.