Officials from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration told a congressional hearing that a number of backup tapes from Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit, had been erased and they were unable to recover thousands of her old emails.
Testifying Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George and Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus discussed their findings. Congress is continuing to investigate the 2013 scandal involving the extra scrutiny given to applications from Tea Party groups and other political organizations that applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Lerner and other top officials at the IRS were either ousted or forced to retire in the wake of the scandal after she revealed that the IRS had been using terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot” to screen applications.
Lerner declined to answer questions from Congress at hearings two years ago. Her HP laptop had crashed back in 2011, making it difficult to recover all of her communications with officials outside the agency. Many of the backup tapes of the IRS’s servers had also been erased.
“As Ms. Lerner’s hard drive could not be recovered and the 422 tapes most likely to have contained Ms. Lerner’s emails from 2010 and 2011 were erased in March 2014, we were unable to recover all of the missing emails,” George and Camus said in their written testimony. “Comparing the IRS email transaction logs to the IRS production to the Congress revealed there could be as many as 23,000 to 24,000 additional missing emails. As a result of the investigative process, TIGTA was successful in recovering over 1,000 emails that the IRS did not produce to the Congress, DOJ, or TIGTA. The investigation also revealed that prior to our investigation and our efforts to recover Ms. Lerner’s missing e mails; the IRS did not search for, review or examine the two separate sources of backup tapes, the server hard drives, or the loaner laptops that ultimately produced new, previously undisclosed emails.”
TIGTA is in the process of finalizing the report on its investigation and plans to have it completed in the near future. In addition, TIGTA is still reviewing all 15.1 terabytes of email data obtained from the initial set of 735 backup tapes. “There is a remote possibility that this review could result in the recovery of additional emails that were not previously produced to Congress, DOJ or TIGTA; however, this process could take as long as an additional two months,” George and Camus told the congressional panel. “If this process produces new material, we will review it for its impact on the investigation, produce a supplemental report, and provide the new emails to all appropriate parties.”
TIGTA, with the help of the FBI, was able to recover 79,840 emails from other backup tapes that had not been erased, but 60 percent were duplicates. Removing the duplicates resulted in approximately 32,774 unique emails sent or received by Lerner.
TIGTA also compared the emails to the tens of thousands that the IRS had already provided to Congress with the help of a special programming script, and identified up to 6,400 that had not been previously provided to Congress. TIGTA provided these to the requesting congressional tax-writing committees that have the authority to receive tax return information and plans to share them more widely with other members of Congress after they are redacted.
“We are currently reviewing them and redacting return information for production to the non-tax writing committees,” said George and Camus. “In addition, we manually compared the 6,400 emails to the emails that were previously produced by the IRS to Congress and we removed the obvious spam emails. At the conclusion of this manual review process, we determined that over 1,000 emails that were recovered by TIGTA were not previously provided to Congress, DOJ or TIGTA. A review of these new emails did not provide additional information for the purposes of our investigation.”
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