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|Sarah Swinehart (202) 226-4774|
Lerner Hard Drive Was "Scratched"
IRS ignored advice to use outside experts to recover data
Washington, DC – Despite early refusals to make available IT professionals who worked on Lois Lerner’s computer, Ways and Means Committee investigators have now learned from interviews that the hard drive of former IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner was “scratched,” but data was recoverable. In fact, in-house professionals at the IRS recommended the Agency seek outside assistance in recovering the data. That information conflicts with a July 18, 2014 court filing by the Agency, which stated the data on the hard drive was unrecoverable – including multiple years’ worth of missing emails.
“It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). “The Committee was told no data was recoverable and the physical drive was recycled and potentially shredded. To now learn that the hard drive was only scratched, yet the IRS refused to utilize outside experts to recover the data, raises more questions about potential criminal wrong doing at the IRS.”
It is also unknown whether the scratch was accidental or deliberate, but former federal law enforcement and Department of Defense forensic experts consulted by the Committee say that most of the data on a scratched drive, such as Lerner’s, should have been recoverable. However, in a declaration filed last Friday by the IRS, the agency said it tried but failed to recover the data, but is not sure what happened to the hard drive afterwards other than saying they believe it was recycled, which, according to the court filing means “shredded.”
Further complicating the situation, the Committee’s investigation has revealed evidence that this declaration may not be accurate. A review of internal IRS IT tracking system documents revealed that Lerner’s computer was actually once described as “restored.” In a transcribed interview on July 18, IRS IT employees were unable to confirm the accuracy of the documents or the meaning of the entry “recovered.”
“It is these constant delays and late revelations that have forced this investigation to go on so long,” Camp added. “If the IRS would just come clean and tell Congress and the American people what really happened, we could put an end to this. Our investigators will not stop until we find the full truth.”
After the Supreme Court released its January 2010 decision in Citizens United, the IRS spent three years responding to Democrat complaints and calls to stop activities of conservative groups. The IRS in Washington, DC took these complaints as marching orders to subject Americans to harassment for their beliefs by subjecting applicants to extraordinary delay and inappropriate questions, audits, and by making their confidential tax information public.
At a May 10, 2013 legal event, Lerner admitted that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny based on their names and policy positions. Initially, President Obama vowed to work with Congress to “get this thing fixed.” Likewise, upon assuming leadership of the agency, IRS Commissioner Koskinen said his goal was to “find problems quickly, fix them promptly, make sure they stay fixed, and be transparent about the entire process.” Unfortunately, the Administration’s professed eagerness to help Congress investigate the targeting quickly waned and it began obstructing the Committee’s investigation.
The most egregious recent example is the delay in notifying Congress of Lerner’s lost emails. On June 13, 2014, over 13 months into the investigation, and one month after the Committee was promised it would receive all Lerner emails without qualification, Congress learned that potentially thousands of Lerner emails were destroyed by the IRS. The IRS purportedly notified Congress in a letter sent to provide an update on the pace of production. Buried in the third attachment of the 27-page letter was the revelation that over two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails to and from individuals outside the IRS were lost due to an apparent computer crash that occurred in mid-2011. In later correspondence with the Committee, Treasury and the White House admitted learning of the lost emails in April 2014, two months before the IRS informed Congress.
The Committee immediately began investigating the matter. On the following Monday, the IRS’ Deputy CIO told staff that the agency was unable to retrieve information from Lerner’s malfunctioning hard drive, even after sending it to experts at the IRS’s Criminal Investigations unit. When pressed by investigators about any other computer issues, the IRS admitted that six other IRS employees involved in the political targeting also experienced computer crashes.