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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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. scheidel21 on June 16, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I’m not sure what if any regulatory compliance that the Federal Government is under, however, I think you are being a bit presumptive that all businesses, even large ones have a good email retention policy. I work for a company that, while not the size of the government, has over 2000 people world wide and we have no official archive method. If a user archives their emails locally (which many do here do) they are no longer hosted on our web portal and should their hard drive have a catastrophic failure (unless they also placed the archive on their server share) it would be nearly impossible to retrieve the archived emails.

    All of that stated the story still stinks, even if it is the truth it is hard to take it as such based on the surrounding circumstances. I will admit though that it wouldn’t surprise me if it were the truth considering the dysfunctional IT structure our government has.

  2. Dimsdale on June 16, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Of course they are lying. Period. (copied that one from the president, but in this case, I actually mean it). Their use of ?bama’s formerly favorite word, “unprecedented” with respect to their alleged efforts to produce the emails points to that. If there was some major glitch in the server during that period, would only Lerner’s emails be “vaporized”? I think not. This is the electronic version of “I can’t recall”. I don’t think anyone has their emails stored on their personal hard drives, but even if so, it does not explain their “disappearance” from the servers.

    Maybe the IRS needs an audit of their own, and be subject to the same record keeping standards they demand of us.

    #specialprosecutorforIRS anyone?

    • bien-pensant on June 16, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      Hint: ISPs retain a copy of ALL emails. It’s just good business practice to stay legal.

      And, everyone in the IT world knows that there are multiple ways to backup files.

      Ergo: if I sent an email from a gmail account, guess who would ALSO have a copy?

  3. bien-pensant on June 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Laugh Out Loud! What a really lame excuse to trot out on a Friday. That’s the best they could do???

    I heard that and I just knew that I would never stop laughing, LOL…

    (snort, snort) LOL

    (stop, my side hurts…)

  4. Lynn on June 17, 2014 at 8:33 am

    I will freely admit, I am being driven to rants by this administration. I wish I could laugh at this like you bien-pensant, but just can’t. I just don’t know how anyone who works for this administration sleeps at night. My Mom & Dad sold a piece of land to their city to be kept as open space. It was at a much reduced price than it’s worth. My Dad loved land & it was beautiful, he didn’t want it to go to developers either by him or future owners. Their CPA used a “set aside” which allows them to spread out the gain of the City’s payment in their income tax over 3 years. My Dad died and four years later, the IRS audits my Mom. She has a new CPA, she turns all the IRS notices to the CPA, he is a kid. My Mom kept telling me & I just kept trusting her CPA. Anyways, I had to recreate the whole deal, value of land, city documentation all charitable contributions after they sent a notice to put a lien on her Condo. I managed to do it, but if I can do it, so can the IRS recreate Lerner’s emails. Sorry for yet another rant.

  5. SeeingRed on June 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

    This excuse (dog/homework) stopped working somewhere around 3rd grade, but passes muster with IRS?

    I worked for 3 mainframe/minicomputer companies and the Evil Giant themselves (MSFT), and to believe this story takes a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’…as repeated by Ms. What Difference Does It Make.

  6. johnboy111 on June 17, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Why should the ONE care??media won’t cover it and we can scream till we blow up..but in the end he still has 3 more yrs…we are doomed..


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