A second federal judge is demanding the embattled IRS to explain, under oath, how two years' worth of emails disappeared from the computer of former official Lois Lerner, the central figure in a contentious tea party targeting scandal.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton wants to know the qualifications of Treasury Department investigators looking into missing emails from 2009 to 2011, when the IRS says the data was wiped out in a computer crash – and when the probe will be wrapped up.
The orders came during a Friday hearing about a lawsuit filed against the IRS by conservative group True the Vote,
which says it was one of the IRS targets for extra scrutiny when the group applied for – and eventually got – tax-exempt status.
Walton warned government lawyers he wanted the answers perhaps as soon as the end of next week, The Hill
Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for True the Vote – which has said it wants an independent forensic investigator to examine the hard drive on Lerner's computer – said Walton's ruling will let them finally hear from someone with direct knowledge of the hard drive.
"He's not just taking everything the government said at face value," she said, The Hill reported. "He's going to give us a little bit of help."
It was the second time in two days the federal court stepped into a mystery that congressional Republicans have been trying to unravel.
"The IRS has stonewalled this investigation from the word go, and we will need every constitutional tool at our disposal, including the courts, to get to the truth," Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady said in a statement, the Washington Free Beacon
"The court's ruling was proper and timely."
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington also ruled the IRS had to explain
under oath how some of Lerner's emails were discovered to be missing after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed by conservative group Judicial Watchdog.
Sullivan also said he'd assign federal Magistrate John Facciola to look into other ways to obtain the missing records from other sources.
At Friday's hearing, Justice Department lawyer Joseph Sergi insisted the IRS didn't have to tell True the Vote about the hard drive crash because it happened two years before the group's lawsuit.
He also maintained there was no evidence any of Lerner's emails were missing – even though IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has said
some haven't been found, and that the agency has been able to reproduce 24,000 of Lerner's emails by using the accounts of other IRS officials.
Though Mitchell argued in the hearing the tax agency should have preserved evidence for True the Vote's case because of a separate lawsuit that also sued the IRS in 2010 over its tax-exempt status. She said Z Street, a pro-Israel group, and True the Vote had both taken political positions opposed to the Obama administration.
But Walton wasn't convinced, The Hill reported.
"I think it's kind of a stretch," he said.
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