House Republicans said Tuesday that new evidence suggests that former IRS official Lois Lerner’s missing emails might have been recoverable, raising new questions about the IRS’s handling of the Tea Party controversy.
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said that the committee had learned that Lerner’s hard drive was “scratched,” and that private sector specialists likely could have recovered emails.
IRS technicians also recommended that the agency seek outside help in recovering the emails, before the hard drive was recycled. A Ways and Means spokeswoman said the information came from an analyst with the IRS’s criminal investigations unit, which examined Lerner’s hard drive.
The IRS has said for weeks that Lerner’s hard drive crash left them unable to reproduce all of her emails for more than two years.
Last week, agency officials said under oath in court filings that Lerner’s hard drive couldn’t be restored, and was then destroyed to protect confidential taxpayer information.
“It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive,” Camp said in a statement.
“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.”
A Democratic spokesman for Ways and Means charged that the GOP was twisting the analyst’s words. Democrats say that the analyst made multiple unsuccessful efforts to recover the lost data, and merely said the IRS could choose to send it to outside specialists for one final try.
“What’s more, he told investigators that he did not think Lerner’s hard drive crash was deliberate,” Josh Drobnyk, the spokesman for Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), said in a statement. “Once again, Republicans are misrepresenting the facts in their never-ending quest to create a scandal.”
John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, where he is likely to get pressed on a range of new developments in the controversy.
The IRS has said that sending Lerner’s hard drive to the criminal investigations unit was an extra step that showed how far the agency went to restore her hard drive.
Ways and Means said Tuesday that other experts, including former Defense Department officials, said that document should be able to be recovered from a scratched hard drive.
The committee also said that internal IRS logs said at least once that Lerner’s computer had been recovered, raising even more questions.
Separately, the House Oversight panel charged Tuesday that top-level IRS officials knew as soon as February that some of Lerner’s emails are missing.
On Monday, the Oversight panel released a new transcript in which a top IRS official said that tapes backing up Lerner’s emails might not have been recycled, as the IRS stated when it first informed lawmakers of the missing emails in June.
Koskinen has previously said that he learned there was a problem with Lerner’s emails in February, and that he found out emails were missing in April. His appearance before Oversight on Wednesday will be his third in just a month.
The commissioner has previously said that the IRS waited to tell Congress about the missing emails until the agency tried to recover documents from the accounts of other staffers. That process found 24,000 emails, Koskinen and the IRS have said.
Lerner has become the central figure in the IRS controversy since apologizing in May 2013 for the agency’s singling out of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.
The IRS’s admission that they can’t find all of her emails has reenergized congressional investigations into the agency, and calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor.
Democrats say the GOP charges are overblown, and that the repeated demands that Koskinen testify amount to “public harassment.”