IRS: Lerner's hard drive was wiped clean in 2011

The IRS said under oath Friday that former agency official Lois Lerner’s hard drive was destroyed and recycled, echoing earlier testimony from its commissioner.

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In its most extensive comments yet on Lerner’s hard drive, the agency said in court filings Friday that the hard drive was destroyed in 2011 to protect confidential taxpayer information.

Before that, the IRS said, the hard drive underwent a process designed to permanently erase stored data. That process occurred after a series of IRS technical officers examined Lerner’s hard drive, and found that it couldn’t be restored after a crash.

The IRS’s court filings came as part of a lawsuit filed against the agency by True the Vote, a conservative activist group.

A week ago, Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court in Washington imposed a Friday deadline for the IRS to tell the court what happened to Lerner’s hard drive, among other questions.

The IRS said last month that Lerner’s hard drive crashed in 2011, leaving a chunk of her emails for the previous two-plus years missing.

That admission reignited the investigations into the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt groups. Lerner kicked off that controversy in May 2013 by apologizing for the IRS’s behavior, and has since become the central figure in the inquiry.

John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, said in congressional testimony last month that Lerner’s hard drive had been recycled and destroyed, drawing gasps from GOP lawmakers.

Republicans and conservative activists have said they have serious doubts that the Lerner’s emails are lost for good, and have noted that her hard drive crashed less than two weeks after GOP lawmakers started questioning the IRS’s oversight of tax-exempt groups.

Those skeptics, along with Judge Walton, also sought the serial number to Lerner’s hard drive.

In its court filing, the IRS said that it got the hard drive’s serial number from an outside contractor who sold the agency Lerner’s laptop computer. The IRS added that it only puts bar codes on larger pieces of equipment, like laptop or desktop computers.

The IRS said that it was standard practice for hard drives to be shredded before any of their parts were recycled. Because of its tracking system, the IRS said that it’s now impossible to say what happened to any of the parts of Lerner’s hard drive that might have been put back into use.

In a separate statement, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration said it was unable to say when it would complete its investigation into what happened to Lerner’s hard drive.

Walton had requested that information as well, along with the qualifications of the inspector general’s investigators.

The tax administration inspector general outlined the IRS’s singling out of Tea Party groups in a report last May. The inspector general said that 15 employees in all are assigned to the Lerner investigation, some of whom have extensive training in computer investigations.

True the Vote, which was eventually granted its tax-exempt status, is seeking damages from the government for its treatment from the IRS. The group has also asked the court to appoint an independent forensic specialist to examine Lerner's computer equipment.

Walton is also not the only federal judge seeking information from the IRS. Judge Emmet Sullivan, in a separate case before the D.C. district court, also sought information explaining why Lerner’s emails went missing.

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