IRS: Lois Lerner's Computer Destroyed 3 Years Ago

Friday, 18 Jul 2014 10:54 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The IRS said Friday that Lois Lerner's computer hard drive was destroyed and recycled three years ago, ending any chance of retrieving her lost emails.

In court papers, the IRS explained that Lerner's hard drive was destroyed after two sets of trained technicians tried to retrieve the data. The agency said it was standard procedure to destroy old data storage equipment to protect confidential taxpayer information.

"To the best of my knowledge and according to discussions between the IT personnel involved, and as a result of the lack of tracking capability of component parts in the [IRS] IT inventory control system, when the hard drive was …batched with other damaged or obsolete miscellaneous equipment, it became impossible to specifically identity the hard drive through any [IRS] equipment inventory system," Stephen Manning, an IRS chief deputy information officer, said in the filing in U.S. District Court in Washington on Friday posted by Politico.

The document was the Internal Revenue Service's first detailed account of what happened to Lerner's computer. It came as part of a lawsuit filed against the agency by True the Vote, the voter-rights organization based in Houston, for its targeting to conservative and tea party groups.

Editor’s Note: New Warning - Stocks on Verge of Major Collapse

True the Vote is seeking damages in its lawsuit, while the IRS contends that the action should be dismissed because it granted the group its tax-exempt status. The status was granted last September, three years after True the Vote made its application and a lawsuit against the agency.

True the Vote has also asked the court to appoint an independent forensic specialist to examine Lerner's computer equipment.

Federal District Court Judge Reggie Walton gave the IRS until Friday to explain what happened to the hard drive under penalties of perjury. He also sought the serial number to Lerner’s hard drive.

A Justice Department lawyer told Walton last week that there was no evidence Lerner intentionally destroyed her hard drive.

Other groups that had been singled out for targeting include the Tea Party Patriots and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the nonprofit political group advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Lerner headed the IRS division that evaluated the applications. She retired last year because of the scandal and was held in contempt of Congress in May for refusing to testify before the House Oversight and Government and Reform Committee.

The IRS disclosed in June that it had lost thousands of Lerner's emails because her computer crashed in the summer of 2011. The hard drives of at least seven other employees connected to the tea party investigation also crashed.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen had told Congress that Lerner's hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed.

The disclosures have fueled Republican charges of a cover-up at the embattled agency.

In the court papers, the IRS said that Lerner's hard drive crashed in 2011, destroying more than two years' worth of emails. The drive's serial number came from an outside contractor who sold Lerner's laptop computer to the agency.

The IRS explained that it only assigns bar codes to such larger pieces of equipment as desktop computers and printers.

But the vendor, who was not named in the documents, tracked down the serial number of Lerner's computer: 2AGAH01E1XN0ON.

It was common practice for hard drives to be shredded before any parts were recycled, the IRS said. The agency said that its tracking system now made it virtually impossible to determine whether any parts of Lerner’s hard drive might have been returned to service or what otherwise might have become of them.

Walton also wanted information about an inspector general's investigation into the lost emails. He also sought the qualifications of computer experts conducting the investigation, and he wanted a projection on when the investigation will be complete.

Timothy Camus, a deputy inspector general for investigations, said in a separate filing that 11 special agents are working the case. However, he added, "It is not possible to give an estimated date of completion."

On Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told Congress that the Justice Department was investigating the lost emails as part of a larger probe into the targeting scandal.

Walton is also not the only federal judge seeking information from the IRS.

Judge Emmet Sullivan, in a separate federal case brought by Judicial Watch, gave the agency until Aug. 10 to explain why Lerner’s emails went missing and what it was doing to retrieve them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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