When IRS bureaucrats decided to make life difficult for hundreds of Tea Party and conservative nonprofit applicants during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, they frequently discussed their actions on government email accounts. They even discussed in some of those emails the need to be cautious about what sort of things they said digitally, knowing that congressional oversight investigators might someday request copies of their communications.
But Congress and nonprofit watchdogs have been unable to obtain emails from the critical time period of key IRS employees, most notably those of Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS division that approves nonprofit applications. Thanks to suspiciously well-timed computer malfunctions, these have been lost to history. Or have they?
|Thanks to suspiciously well-timed computer malfunctions, Lerner's emails have been lost to history. Or have they?|
In June, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress he had “moved heaven and earth” in his effort to recover Lerner's emails, which were believed lost after her hard drive was “scratched” and then scrapped. But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa noted Monday in a Fox News interview that this “appears to be a false statement.”
Whether Koskinen was aware or not, judicial proceedings in a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the IRS have revealed that the federal government backs up all of its computer data, including employee email, if only for post-apocalyptic rebuilding purposes.
Attorneys with the conservative nonprofit watchdog Judicial Watch filed the FOIA seeking Lerner's relevant correspondence in 2013. Two congressional committees also asked for Lerner’s email at about the same time. But nobody was told about the doomsday computer backup system until Friday during a telephone conference call between Judicial Watch and government attorneys. Even then, the government attorneys divulged it only after being pointedly asked about it.
According to Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton, the government is now claiming that it would be “onerous” to retrieve Lerner's emails from the backup system. If these emails do in fact still exist, then the public has every right to be outraged by the runaround the IRS has engaged in with stories of “scratched” hard drives and irretrievable emails. It is obviously worth the effort to find out whether federal executive power has been marshaled to obstruct people or party of one particular persuasion in the service of a people or a party of the opposite persuasion. Is there any abuse of power more obvious and wrong than that, or one more worth the onerous obligation of rooting out?
Disinterring the emails is important not, as some say, because they might establish a direct link to the White House, but because the Tea Party and conservative groups — not to mention people with a disinterested care for the preservation of democracy — deserve to know the truth about the nest of bureaucratic vipers they were up against. Ultimately, there should be comprehensive systemic reforms at the IRS, so that this sort of political targeting isn’t repeated, regardless of which party controls the White House.
In the meantime, let's hear why, if the emergency backup has been there all along, the government failed to mention it until now? Disclosure of the backup system may also cast new light on other Obama administration officials whose emails have mysteriously gone missing ahead of document requests, including at the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services. Either way, it is not “onerous” to expect government officials follow federal transparency and record-keeping laws and regulations.
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.