In a press release Tuesday, the Ways And Means Committee discovered through interviews with IRS technology experts that former IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive was scratched, but not unrecoverable. In addition to this discovery, the release stated that professionals within the agency had advised the IRS to seek independent assistance to retrieve the data, and this recommendation was ignored.
According to the press release, “investigators have now learned from interviews that the hard drive of former IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner was ‘scratched’, but data was recoverable.”
Not only did the press release contradict previous testimony claiming that all efforts to recover Lerner’s hard drive had been exhausted, but it also stated that “a review of internal IRS IT tracking system documents revealed that Lerner’s computer was actually once described as ‘recovered.’” IRS IT employees were unable to clarify exactly what “recovered” meant.
Last month, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen had testified that Lerner’s hard drive was unrecoverable and had been “recycled”, or destroyed. Koskinen said he was unsure if the hard drive had been smashed or melted down, but he admitted that it was indeed physically destroyed.
In another twist, IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane testified on July 17th that he was unsure if backup tapes of Lerner’s emails were actually recycled. IRS officials had previously claimed that all backup tapes of emails were recycled after six months.
Experts say the IRS should have documentation of the elimination of Lerner’s hard drive, but proof of its destruction is still yet to be found.
“From a purely contractual standpoint, if you send something over to a contractor, you would have to get a statement back saying they actually completed the work to actually pay them … because then you would know that it was destroyed,” said government tech official Karen Evans.
What began as an inquiry into allegations of the IRS unfairly targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status has grown into a mystifying examination of the incompetence of the IRS in its inability to properly keep records.
“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,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) disagrees with the investigation, and sent a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) objecting to Koskinen being called to testify a third time, declaring it “public harassment of an agency head”.