A computer crash obliterated two years' worth of email files kept by retired IRS official Lois Lerner, the scandal-scarred agency says.
The disappearing emails – first disclosed Friday
by the agency – are crucial to congressional investigations of the Internal Revenue Service's targeted scrutiny of tax-exempt applications from tea party groups and whether Lerner was getting orders from someone else in the Obama administration, because Lerner has refused to testify.
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About 67,000 emails have so far been offered to Congress, including those found by searching other employees' email systems, The Washington Post reported,
but those from 2009 to 2011 are apparently lost.
The Post reported the IRS gave a fuller explanation in a letter to Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. According to The Post, the agency keeps a backup of the records for six months on digital tape, and when the congressional committee asked for them, the records went back only to late 2012.
The Post also reported that two other policies complicated matters: first, a limit on how big employees' in-boxes could be, and second, poorly defined criteria for what emails were important enough to be considered "official record" and be committed to a hard copy.
The Post noted the letter sent to the senators suggests that it was up to the user to determine what emails met those standards, and that it's not clear if Lerner had any hard copies of important emails.
By searching Lerner's computer and those of other employees, the agency was able to compile thousands of emails sent from and to Lerner from 2011 to 2013. But in 2011, Lerner's computer crashed.
The Post reported that she asked the IRS' information technology division to try to recover the data from her hard drive, but it couldn't do so, and it appeared individual machines like hers weren't backed up.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who has subpoenaed the information,
was skeptical of the crash excuse, telling "CBS This Morning" on Monday that it was "just not believable."
"We have enough evidence of her wrongdoing that we want to review every email that she has sent or received. That's reasonable to do when you have someone who takes the Fifth," he said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will testify before two congressional committees this week to explain why Lerner's email can't be produced and why Congress is just now learning about Lerner's computer crash.
In a letter written to Koskinen, Issa said, "I will not tolerate your continued obstruction and game-playing in response to the committee's investigation of the IRS targeting."
"Despite your empty promises and broken commitments to cooperation, the IRS still insists on flouting constitutional congressional oversight.
"This is not about what you turn over. It is all about what you don't turn over."
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White House press secretary Josh Earnest disagreed.
"I think it's entirely reasonable, and it's fact," he told reporters aboard Air Force One, CNN reported.
"You've never heard of a computer crashing before?"
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