An inspector general investigating the IRS’s improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups has found thousands of emails from Lois Lerner, the agency official at the center of that controversy, according to committees involved in the probe.
The Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA) said it found roughly 6,400 emails either to or from Lerner sent between 2004 and 2013 that it didn’t think the IRS had turned over to lawmakers, the panels said. The committees have yet to examine the emails, according to Capitol Hill aides.
Of the emails the inspector general found, about 650 were from 2010 and 2011, and most were from 2012. The inspector general found about 35,000 emails in all as it sought to recover data from recycled back-up tapes.
Aides said there would likely be some duplicates among the emails that were turned over to Congress in previous document productions.
The IRS’s admission that it couldn’t find Lerner’s emails reinvigorated congressional investigations into the IRS, which apologized in May 2013 for singling out Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status. At the time, the agency said it had routinely recycled tapes backing up emails before the controversy broke in 2013.
Lerner, who headed up an IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, was quickly placed on leave and eventually retired from the agency in September 2013. The House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress last year after she invoked the Fifth Amendment during testimony, but the U.S. attorney in Washington declined to move forward with those charges.
In a statement, the IRS said it was glad to hear that the inspector general found the new Lerner emails, calling it “an encouraging development that will help resolve remaining questions and dispel uncertainty surrounding the emails.”
The agency also noted that it took the inspector general around 10 months to come up with the 650 emails sent or received during the period affected by Lerner’s hard-drive crash, and that the IRS itself handed over 24,000 emails from that period last year.
“The IRS will continue to cooperate with the Inspector General and the congressional committees to complete work in this area, and we look forward to the results to determine what additional steps the IRS can take to ensure that we continue to improve our processes,” the agency said.
The Treasury inspector general’s office told lawmakers in February that it was examining whether anyone committed a crime as part of the IRS’s handling of the Lerner emails, and that it had been working with outside experts to recapture the missing emails.
One committee investigating the Tea Party controversy said the inspector general’s office was having some technical problems recovering the emails, in part because of how they were previously handled by the IRS.
But a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchA guide to the committees: Senate 7 key players in the GOP's border tax fight Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show MORE (R-Utah) said the committee hoped the new emails would bring the panel closer to releasing the findings of its IRS investigation. Committee aides have said the panel was close to finishing its report when the IRS said it couldn’t locate the Lerner emails last year.
“These emails will be carefully examined as part of the committee’s bipartisan IRS investigation,” the spokesman said. “After TIGTA produces their report regarding the missing data later this year, the Committee hopes to follow suit and move forward with the release of its bipartisan report on this issue.”