IRS should be considered guilty until proven innocent

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

A massive IRS computer glitch supposedly deleted two years of emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the former head of tax exempt groups. Lerner, at the center of the IRS targeting scandal, twice invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress after claiming “I have done nothing wrong.”

The same alleged glitch also took out emails belonging to six other high-ranking IRS officials, including Nikole Flax, the former chief of staff to IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.

The “lost” emails were dated between January 2009 and August 2011, coincidentally the same time period when tea party groups were singled out for extra scrutiny. One important point lost on many in the media is exactly which emails the IRS is claiming died in the crash. Not all of Lerner's IRS emails are missing — just the ones she sent to the White House, Department of Justice, FEC, Treasury Department, Democrats on Capitol Hill and other outside groups, says the House Ways and Means Committee. The IRS still has relevant emails Lerner sent to other IRS employees.

Multiple emails that weren't lost show Lerner feeding information about voter integrity group True the Vote to Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings and the IRS have been bullying True the Vote for years. Emails also show Lerner discussing the possibility of criminal prosecution and jail time for tea party groups after a recommendation from Larry Noble, a former attorney at the FEC and current president of the liberal organization Americans for Campaign Reform.

And then of course there's the big data file Lerner sent to the FBI just ahead of the 2010 midterm elections full of confidential tax information belonging to conservative tea party groups.

Since the IRS uses a guilty until proven innocent approach to American taxpayers and their documents, I'm going to use the same standard for IRS officials who deliberately went out of their way to silence thousands of voices belonging to conservative groups. The IRS must prove the emails aren't backed up somewhere, that the emails weren't received by anyone and that they weren't destroyed by someone inside the agency in an effort to cover up criminal activity.

Emails don't get “lost,” as Lerner and her IRS allies would have us believe. At this point we're looking at destruction of evidence in a criminal case, a crime that carries a heavy prison sentence. Further, the IRS, like most federal agencies, is required by law to keep copies of emails backed up in servers. If backups weren't kept, that's also a crime and someone should be held accountable.

The double standard in this situation is incredible. The IRS sent conservative groups applying for tax exempt status hundreds of questions spanning dozens of pages. Conservative leaders answered those questions under threat of perjury and weren't given the luxury of not providing “lost” information requested by IRS officials to verify status or to complete tax audits.

If a private citizen were to tell IRS officials or Congress during an investigation that his hard drive crashed and requested documentation was not available, the FBI would be pounding down his door.

How strange — and how convenient ­— it is that the IRS only “lost” emails belonging to high ranking IRS officials at just the right time.

Katie Pavlich is news editor of Her exclusive Trib columns appear the first and third Fridays of each month.

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