IRS email probe deepens
WASHINGTON – A second federal judge has ordered the IRS to provide information about lost emails from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said Friday he wants to know whatever became of Lois Lerner’s computer hard drive. IRS officials say Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, destroying an untold number of emails.
At the time, Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She has since retired.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has told Congress that Lerner’s hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed. If that’s the case, Walton said he wants a sworn affidavit saying so by the end of next week.
Walton also wants information about the IRS inspector general’s investigation into the lost emails.
Walton spoke at a hearing Friday in a lawsuit by a conservative group against the IRS. True the Vote, which says it advocates for the integrity of elections, sued the IRS over delays in its application for tax-exempt status.
Walton’s order came a day after another federal judge ordered the IRS to explain under oath how it lost the emails. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued his order on Thursday, gave the tax agency a month to submit the explanation in writing.
Sullivan was ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog.
As part of True the Vote’s lawsuit, the group wants Walton to appoint an independent expert to investigate the lost emails.
“We don’t trust the IRS,” Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for the group, told Walton.
Before ruling on True the Vote’s request, Walton said he wants information about the inspector general’s investigation. Walton said he wants to know the qualifications of computer experts conducting the investigation. He also wants a projection on when the investigation will be complete.
In a June 27 letter to Congress, Koskinen said he expects the inspector general to issue an interim report “in a matter of weeks.”
Lerner has emerged as a central figure in several congressional investigations into the IRS’s handling of applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups. Twice Lerner refused to answer questions at congressional hearings, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.
In May, the Republican-led House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify.
In 2011, the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen told Congress. He said Lerner’s hard drive was recycled after technicians in the agency’s forensics lab tried unsuccessfully to restore it.