Oops: IRS Claims Key Lerner Emails On Tea Party Investigation Lost

Republicans on the Congressional House Ways and Means Committee expressed outrage Friday following an off-hand notification from the IRS that two year’s worth of emails from Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS division that gave extra scrutiny to Tea Party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. The agency claims that the Lerner’s computer crashed.

According to Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. (R-LA), the revelation that the IRS lost the emails was buried deep in an “unrelated letter on a Friday afternoon.” It’s not uncommon for controversial news to released at the end of the business day on Friday so that it becomes lost over the weekend.

“In that same letter, they urge Congress to end the investigations into IRS wrongdoing. This is not the transparency promised to the American people. If there is no smidgeon of corruption what is the Administration hiding?” Boutsany claimed.

The IRS says that the emails lost covered the period from January 2009 through April 2011. This is the same time frame that Lerner, as the head of tax exempt organizations, allegedly targeted Tea Party for extra scrutiny and possible criminal prosecution.

“The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) said in a statement. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.”

For its part, the IRS says that is has been able to collect 24,000 emails Lerner e-mails during the 2009-2011 time period by going to other agency employees and searching their computers for any emails involving the former department head. These have been turned over to Congressional investigators or will will be as part of a more than 67,000 emails sent or received by Lerner.

“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,” the agency said in a statement obtained by the Washington Times.

Lerner’s IRS-owned computer that contained the emails reportedly crashed in 2011. Attempts to recover data from the faulty hard drive by technical staff was reportedly unsuccessful.

Emails involving Lerner and the IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups recently released show that she sent confidential tax return data belonging to conservative groups to the FBI for investigation before the 2010 mid-term elections. Older emails show that she reached out to the Department of Justice about possible prosecution of conservative groups and was in contact with Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. As can be expected, the response on Twitter to the Friday document was not met well by conservatives.

Lerner retired from the IRS due to the scandal. The House Ways and Means. The House Oversight Committee voted to hold her in contempt for her refusal to answer questions in two separate hearings.

The reaction to the news from conservative pundits and politicians on Twitter was one of disbelief.

[Image Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster]