IRS unable to save data on Lois Lerner computer, agency says
WASHINGTON — Internal Revenue Service technicians made repeated futile efforts to save data on a malfunctioning computer hard drive used by Lois Lerner, the former agency official at the center of a dispute between Congress and the Obama administration over scrutiny of Tea Party groups, according to a court filing.
In a series of sworn statements submitted by the IRS in its effort to fend off a lawsuit by the activist group Judicial Watch, government technicians described the step-by-step processes they followed to try to recover the data.
The IRS in June told a congressional committee investigating the agency's review of Tea Party groups seeking nonprofit status that the hard-drive crash on Lerner's computer prevented it from obtaining much of her email from 2009 to 2011.
Judicial Watch sued the IRS in October under the Freedom of Information Act for Lerner's email and other communications concerning the processing of applications for tax-exempt status. The litigation and congressional investigation were triggered by Lerner's statement in May 2013 that the IRS singled out for extra scrutiny the applications of groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names.
Anti-tax Tea Party groups, some of which included the word “patriot” in their name, formed shortly after President Obama, a Democrat, took office in January 2009. The groups helped fuel gains by Republicans in the 2010 elections.
The IRS filing didn't supply information requested by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who is overseeing the case, said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
The filing “seems to treat as a joke Judge Sullivan's order requiring the IRS to produce details about Lois Lerner's ‘lost emails' and any efforts to retrieve and produce them,” Fitton said in a statement.
Sullivan on July 10 ordered the IRS to “explain the facts and circumstances surrounding the crash” of Lerner's hard drive in 2011, including information about efforts to repair the device and recover data from it.
Lerner, who retired last year, oversaw employees who determined whether groups seeking nonprofit status were too political to qualify for it. Interest in her email increased after she declined to answer investigators' questions, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination.