Top Republicans expressed outrage late Wednesday over news that the IRS recycled former supervisor Lois Lerner's crashed computer — meaning that emails involved in the scandal over the targeting of conservative groups are most likely gone forever.
"We’ve been informed that the hard drive has been thrown away," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee, told Politico on Wednesday.
The news inflamed the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa. "If the IRS truly got rid of evidence in a way that violated the Federal Records Act and ensured the FBI never got a crack at recovering files from an official claiming a Fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination, this is proof their whole line about 'losing' e-mails in the targeting scandal was just one more attempted deception," he blasted in a statement.
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"Old and useless binders of information are still stored and maintained on federal agency shelves; official records, like the e-mails of a prominent official, don't just disappear without a trace unless that was the intention."
late Wednesday that the IRS had recycled Lerner's computer, which Issa had subpoenaed the day before in his investigation of the agency's singling out of tea party groups.
The California congressman also sought back-up tapes, external drives, hard drives, and other electronic files either sent or received by Lerner between Jan. 1, 2009, and Sept. 23, 2013, in his subpoena
sent to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
The Politico report also cited two additional sources, based on information obtained from IRS officials.
"We believe the standard IRS protocol was followed in 2011 for disposing of the broken hard drive," an IRS spokesman told Politico. "A bad hard drive, like other broken information technology equipment, is sent to a recycler as part of our regular process."
With Lerner's computer, congressional investigators were hoping to find specific information linking the Obama administration to the IRS targeting during that period, Politico reports. The groups were scrutinized in their applications for tax-exempt status from 2010 to just before the 2012 presidential election.
The IRS had said that its own investigators were unable to restore the information back in 2011 after Lerner's computer had crashed that summer, Politico reports.
"IT experts have weighed in and said yes — we can get those" emails, Louisiana GOP Rep. Charles Boustany told Politico on Wednesday.
Last Friday, the IRS said that it had lost an untold number of emails when Lerner's computer crashed in 2011. Lerner, who retired last year in light of the scandal, headed the division that evaluates the applications for tax-exempt status.
Among the groups targeted by the IRS
were True the Vote, the Houston-based voters' rights organization, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the nonprofit political group advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Lerner was found in contempt of Congress
last month after refusing twice to testify before Issa's committee.
The IRS also has lost emails from six additional IRS workers
involved in the scandal whose computers crashed — and some computer experts had questioned the agency's claims that the data had been lost.
Earlier Wednesday, outgoing White House spokesman Jay Carney said that no emails
between Lerner and anyone in President Barack Obama's office on the targeting had been found.
"We found zero emails," Carney said at his last briefing with reporters.
The IRS has been able to retrieve
24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009-to-2011 period because Lerner had copied in other IRS employees. Overall, the agency said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, from 2009 to 2013.
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