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Surprise Twists In IRS Emails Scandal Border Comedy

With global reporting this week covering a wide range of disastrous events around the world, the latest chapter in the scandal of the missing IRS emails seems almost orchestrated for comic relief.

Consider the scenario, reported by CBS and NBC, in which the head of the IRS suddenly revealed to a congressional Oversight committee that a hard drive at the heart of the scandal did not necessarily crash as he claimed to Congress a month ago.

This was followed by another surprise twist in which a prominent IRS official disclosed that back-up tapes to the crashed hard drive were not necessarily “recycled” or “shredded” as previously maintained to Congress (under oath).  

 

These disclosures and the changing stories about a crucial piece of evidence in a congressional investigation – and now at the center of a judicial probe in federal court – have astounded the public. 

 

The emails in question were allegedly lost when a computer belonging to Lois Lerner, a top IRS official who formerly headed the IRS tax exemption division, allegedly crashed in 2011. Lerner has refused to testify about the emails, invoking her Constitutional right not to self-incriminate, prompting Congress to cite her for contempt.

 

Among the vast number of Lerner’s lost emails are documents many believe would reveal who initiated the IRS policy of targeting conservative groups politically at odds with the Obama Administration

 

The IRS had admitted it subjected these groups to intrusive scrutiny and excessive review and apologized for it. The agency pledged its willingness to cooperate with an investigation by the Treasury Inspector General into how this unlawful and discriminatory policy evolved and under whose dictates.

 

But the investigation stalled when it was revealed that Lerner’s computer had crashed several years ago and a great many documents relevant to the investigation had been lost.

 

BACKUP TAPES “WIPED CLEAN”?

 

The time frame of missing emails, 2009 to 2011, corresponds with the period when conservative groups were being targeted for added scrutiny by the IRS when they sought tax-exempt status.

 

The IRS claims they took steps to retrieve the data on the computer’s hard drive but were told it was “unrecoverable.”

 

In congressional hearings, top officials testified further that although Lerner’s computer was backed up as the law requires, the back-up tapes were of no help since they had been recycled after 6 months in line with IRS policy and “wiped clean.”

 

Skeptics wondered how it was possible for thousands of documents to simply disappear – especially after the IRS was aware of an investigation underway which mandated that the agency institute special procedures to preserve all documents relevant to the probe.

 

IT (information technology) experts have explained that it is inconceivable that the federal government’s tax collection agency, like all financial institutions in most industrialized countries, would not have several backups in place to ensure they would not lose important data.

 

“Unlike hard drives in an average consumer’s laptop or computer, hard drives in corporate networks are backed up by multiple secondary drives which in turn are backed up by servers, which in turn are backed up by other servers,” explained an IT expert on the Rush Limbaugh talk show. “These multiple backups systems ensure that important data will never be permanently lost.”

 

So crucial are these backup systems that banks and financial institutions are periodically audited by external auditors to ensure they have reliable backup methods to secure and protect their data, he said.

 

FEDERAL RULINGS IN LAWSUITS A LIKELY GAME-CHANGER

 

Several groups that claim the IRS used illegal political criteria to deny their applications for tax-exempt status sued the agency, arguing it was highly unlikely that two years of emails containing sensitive taxpayer information could simply be lost.

 

One of the groups, Judicial Watch, filed a FOIA suit to obtain the missing emails.

 

Two weeks ago, instead of dismissing the lawsuits as expected, two no-nonsense federal judges in separate courtrooms ordered the IRS to submit sworn affidavits explaining exactly how the computer fiasco happened and what steps were taken by experts to recover it.

 

One of the judges enlisted the assistance of another judge who is an expert in electronics and computer technology in assessing what exactly happened to Lois Lerner’s hard drive.

 

Several weeks earlier, Z Street, a pro-Israel group that opposes a “two-state solution” as long as terrorist groups rule in Gaza and the West Bank, had won an important federal ruling in its lawsuit.