At first blush, the latest twist in the discredited IRS “controversy” may appear serious, but it’s worth pausing to take a closer look.
Congressional investigators are fuming over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy.The IRS said Lois Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, wiping out an untold number of emails that were being sought by congressional investigators.
House Republicans are apoplectic, and on the surface, it’s easy to see why. Investigators, still hoping to find some evidence of wrongdoing against someone long after the trail went cold and the “scandal” evaporated, have sought materials that should be available. The IRS now claims many of those materials are no longer accessible due to a computer mishap.
For the right, the response sounds a bit like a dog-ate-my-homework kind of answer. Some of the pundits who’ve ignored the exculpatory evidence and continue to hope there’s a legitimate story in here somewhere, are calling for a special prosecutor.
But there’s probably less here than meets the eye.
According to the tax agency, the excuse is legitimate. As the AP reported, “The IRS said technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner’s computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But to no avail.”
For Republicans and their allies, this sounds like a convenient way to deny investigators access to Lerner’s emails. But note, the IRS has already produced 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, from 2009 to 2013, and were able to piece together 24,000 Lerner emails from the missing period based those who’d been cc’d in various messages. This is hardly evidence of a cover-up.
For that matter, note that Republicans and conspiracy theorists are principally interested in Lerner’s messages from 2012 – the election year. The computer crash affected emails from before 2012. If the IRS intended to hide potentially damaging materials from investigators, and it was willing to use a made-up technical problem to obscure the truth, chances are the agency would have scrapped Lerner’s emails from the relevant period, not emails from before the relevant period.
That said, if Republicans want to talk about the outrage that comes with an administration that claims to have lost emails due to a technical glitch, let’s broaden the conversation a bit.
The Bush White House email controversy surfaced in 2007, during the controversy involving the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. Congressional requests for administration documents while investigating the dismissals of the U.S. attorneys required the Bush administration to reveal that not all internal White House emails were available, because they were sent via a non-government domain hosted on an email server not controlled by the federal government. Conducting governmental business in this manner is a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and the Hatch Act…. In 2009, it was announced that as many as 22 million emails may have been deleted. [emphasis added]
At the time, congressional Republican didn’t seem bothered by this at all. Imagine that.
Of course, the difference is, there was credible evidence that the Bush White House engaged in actual wrongdoing, suggesting the missing emails included potentially incriminating evidence, all of which somehow went missing.
In contrast, no one has yet produced any evidence that the IRS “controversy” is real.