So what if Lois Lerner’s emails (and, it turns out, those of six more Internal Revenue Service employees) went “missing” from computers? Shouldn’t there be a paper trail for everything? After all, that’s what Federal law requires.
So far, there is no paper trail, and Congressional investigators into the IRS political discrimination scandal say they’re having a hard time believing a simple computer snafu can account for the perfectly timed unavailability of communications records from the alleged key players — at least the ones we know of so far — involved in the government-sanctioned targeting of conservative groups.
Even as new IRS director John Koskinen was telling the House Oversight Committee that the agency would provide Lerner’s emails after months of stonewalling, he and others within the IRS knew the emails had vanished, according to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
“The White House promised full cooperation, the Commissioner promised full access to Lois Lerner emails and now the Agency claims it cannot produce those materials and they’ve known for months they couldn’t do this,” Camp said in a statement last week.
On top of that, Lerner’s communications aren’t the only ones within the IRS that have vanished since the Oversight Committee began investigating.
“It’s not just Lois Lerner’s emails. The Internal Revenue Service says it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, according to two Republicans investigating the scandal,” National Review reported Tuesday.
“The IRS told Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp and subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany (R-La.) that computer crashes resulted in additional lost emails, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.”
Computer experts who understand the role information technology plays in government data have since weighed in on the IRS’s admission, with one expert describing the alleged loss as “mind-boggling.”
“It is very well known in both legal and IT circles that as soon as litigation and/or criminal investigation is likely — not actually initiated, but merely likely — it is imperative to preserve any relevant electronic documents, even it if means suspending existing practices of, say, email deletion or purging of backup files,” IT consultant Bruce Webster told FOX News on Tuesday.
Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who left the network in frustration over its alleged rejection of her investigative reporting on scandals emanating from the Administration of President Barack Obama, told a Philadelphia talk show host there is virtually no way the IRS has irretrievably lost any of its communications data.
“One [IRS] official wrote me… to say this is entirely implausible, and he said there are criminal penalties for destroying Federal records, which makes sense, including liability for negligence for not taking the necessary steps to protect files, including a federal requirement to backup data,” said Attkisson. “This doesn’t happen. He said… all email servers are backed up with something called ‘RAID’ (Redundant Array Of Independent Disks), and it’s nearly impossible for something to delete the files, and that even if that were to happen they would not be gone forever.”
Regardless of the legitimacy of the IRS’s claim, the agency has so far offered no excuse for failing to offer access to paper copies of all of the allegedly missing data. Under the Federal Records Act, the IRS has been breaking the law if it hasn’t been archiving hard copies of everything.
“The IRS’s own definition of the Federal Records Act makes clear that emails must be saved and documented, according to an instructional page for employees on the IRS website,” The Daily Caller reported Tuesday.
Indeed, the provided link to the IRS website squares with that report:
The Federal Records Act applies to email records just as it does to records you create using other media. Emails are records when they are:
- Created or received in the transaction of agency business
- Appropriate for preservation as evidence of the government’s function and activities
- Valuable because of the information they contain.
If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly. The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records.
“If it’s true that the emails are lost,” quipped Attkisson, “that’s quite a story in itself.”