Judge issues new order in IRS lawsuit

A federal judge on Thursday pressed the IRS for additional information about former agency official Lois Lerner’s missing emails, suggesting he expected more from the agency’s filings earlier this week.

Judge Emmet Sullivan of U.S. District Court in Washington is seeking answers on four different fronts, including what efforts the IRS made to recover Lerner’s lost emails from alternate sources like an iPhone or Blackberry.

Sullivan gave the IRS just over a week, until Aug. 22, to supply those answers, as part of a lawsuit filed by a conservative watchdog, Judicial Watch, seeking Lerner’s emails through a freedom of information lawsuit. The judge had previously given the agency a month to respond to his previous order, which asked more general questions about how Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011.

The agency says the hard drive crash left them unable to recover an untold number of Lerner’s emails over a two-year span. IRS technicians told Sullivan in their Monday filings that they were unable to recover data from Lerner’s hard drive and expressed no concerns the drive had been intentionally sabotaged.

The IRS has previously said Lerner’s hard drive was destroyed and recycled, with its data permanently erased, after it was determined the drive couldn’t be repaired.

Lerner has been a central figure from the start in the controversy over the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. She led an IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, and was the first official to apologize for the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, celebrated Sullivan’s new order, saying it proved the government had offered little in their filings on Monday.

“Today’s order confirms Judicial Watch’s read of this week’s IRS’ filings that treated as a joke Judge Sullivan’s order,” Fitton said in a statement.

In a statement to The Hill, Fitton later called Sullivan’s order “an incredible court intervention.”

“Judicial Watch has filed hundreds of FOIA lawsuits,” Fitton said.” I have never seen this type of court action in all my 16 years at Judicial Watch.”

A spokesman for the IRS didn’t respond to a request for comment. The agency has also responded in recent weeks to a separate lawsuit from another conservative group, True the Vote.

In his order, Sullivan asked the IRS to provide more information on how the IRS uses bar codes to track computer equipment and whether bar codes are used for hard drives. The agency has said in filings for the True the Vote lawsuit that it only put bar codes on larger pieces of equipment, like laptops, but it retrieved the bar code for Lerner’s hard drive from an outside contractor.

The judge also inquired about a process known as degaussing, a magnetic process that wipes information off of hard drives. The IRS has said that Lerner’s hard drive was wiped clean to protect taxpayer information, and Sullivan wants to know agency procedure for tracking that process.

Finally, Sullivan asked the IRS to disclose what outside vendors can more fully brief the court on how the agency destroys hard drives.