The “IRS lost Lois Lerner’s emails” story
The “Friday-at-5” IRS letter released by the House Ways and Means Committee indicated many of Lois Lerner’s emails between Jan. 2009 and April 2011 were lost due to a computer glitch. Of course, the lost emails were the ones sent and received from the White House, DOJ, FEC and many Democrats. Isn’t that convenient…
This story is fishy. If you work in any business or large company, you know there are document retention policies in place to allow for the recovery of all sorts of information. There is no need to go into the technical details, but emails – both sent and received – are located in multiple locations. First, they are located on your own computer or laptop. Most likely, Lerner had at least one laptop and that computer might have had emails from that time period. Those same emails are synched and stored to a primary email server. That set up allows for Lerner to log in from any computer (webmail) and access her email. It also allows her to have a second work computer with everything synched.
One caveat is that email storage is pretty expensive and if there are a lot of attachments the space available can fill quickly. Many large businesses – including the IRS – probably has a limit to how much email storage each employee is provided. When you reach that limit, the emails and attachments are “archived” so you can still access them, but they might not be immediately locally available. Of course, the above does not include the existing incremental and long-term backups of the emails and attachments. Those exist too.
On a side note, why is the committee just hearing about this issue now? And a second note … the 2002 Sarbanes Oxley Act (Section 802(a)(1)) seems to directly require a five year retention policy for all workpapers, and that includes emails. My guess is the IRS is not subject to Sarbanes Oxley…
So what’s going on here? If you take a few moments to read the letter from the IRS, you’ll find they were able to produce 24,000 of Lener’s emails by looking at the people she sent/received email to/from and backfilling the information. This takes more time, but they did seem to have access to email servers holding the information from 82 government employees Lerner communicated with. Reports indicate these are IRS employees.
In my opinion, this provides the IRS and the Obama administration perfect cover. You see, they were able to supply “most” or “a whole bunch” of emails sent and received by Lerner, but a “glitch” resulted in only some of her emails being lost. If all of them were gone, it would be even harder to believe, but my guess is the media will drop this and claim “thousands of Lerner’s emails were turned over, and those evil Republicans just want more and want to drag this investigation on-and-on.”
This set up allows for the Obama administration to “cherry pick” what emails they provide to the committee. Sharyl Attkisson provides a list of questions that should be immediately asked of the IRS. Towards the end of Attkisson’s piece, lies the most important question in all of this.
The lost materials are said to include any communications that may have occurred between Lerner and outside agencies or groups such as the White House, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice, the Federal Elections Commission and the offices of Democrats.
This is sort-of understandable at this point but not excusable. The IRS’ IT personnel would not have access to email servers for the other government departments. But isn’t that – again – totally convenient for the Obama administration? The emails the committee are most interested in – looking to see if there was a coordination between the political (White House) and administrative (IRS) departments – will be a lot harder to come up with since the emails are (understandably) siloed in different email server farms. They are so sorry, it could take years and millions of dollars.
Here is the full statement from the IRS, with my emphasis.
At the request of the Senate Finance Committee, the IRS today provided a summary of its production of email and materials to the Committee related to the processing and review of applications for tax-exempt status, as described in the May 2013 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IRS has made unprecedented efforts in connection with this effort, producing more than 750,000 pages of documents to help complete the investigations. In total, the IRS’s efforts to respond to Congress have involved more than 250 IRS employees working more than 120,000 hours at a direct cost of nearly $10 million.
As we advised the committee three months ago, we have completed the production of materials related to the investigation, including 11,000 emails sent or received by Lois Lerner.
Since then, at the request of other Congressional committees, the IRS has been working on the identification and production of other Lois Lerner emails. The additional emails do not relate to the Finance Committee’s investigation. As part of this additional search, the IRS collected emails from 83 individuals. Congressional investigators have – or will soon have – a total of 67,000 emails sent or received by Ms. Lerner. In the course of collecting and producing Ms. Lerner’s additional emails, the IRS determined her hard drive crashed in 2011. At the time, Ms. Lerner asked IRS IT professionals to restore her hard drive, but they were unable to do so. Nonetheless, the IRS has or will produce 24,000 Lerner emails from this 2009-2011 time period, largely from the files of the other 82 individuals. The IRS’s production to Congress of the 67,000 Lerner emails is nearly complete.
The IRS is committed to working with Congress. The IRS has remained focused on being thorough and responding as quickly as possible to the wide-ranging requests from Congress while taking steps to protect underlying taxpayer information.
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