Only a day before a U.S. District judge will weigh arguments to decide whether to use independent IT experts to track down Lois Lerner’s missing emails, another judge in a separate lawsuit has ordered the IRS to describe, under oath, exactly how those emails turned up missing.
The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan following a hearing today, pertains to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the IRS by nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch.
The Federal tax collecting agency is also a defendant in a similar lawsuit filed by True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative group that alleges it was among the conservative nonprofits targeted by the IRS for political discrimination ahead of the 2012 Presidential campaign season.
Sullivan’s order today gives the IRS 30 days to assign an agency official to file a declaration that outlines how the emails, long sought after by Congressional investigators as part of a House Oversight inquiry, disappeared from computer hard drives, as well as mail servers, backup systems and possibly even employees’ mobile devices. The IRS official responsible for delivering that declaration will be doing so under oath, as the information contained in the document will be comparable with other forms of sworn testimony.
According to Fox News, Sullivan intentionally worded his instructions to the IRS in broad fashion in order to compel the agency to give a thorough explanation. He also ordered the agency to provide the court with information on how the emails could, at this point, be retrieved.
Judicial Watch had already filed its FOIA suit before the IRS admitted to Congress last month that it had essentially been sitting on the knowledge that the emails had disappeared. Tom Fitton, president of the organization, said today the IRS intentionally failed to act properly as a defendant in the case by withholding that knowledge from both Judicial Watch and the court itself.
“In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on. The Department of Justice; the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation … to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost,” Fitton said.
On Friday, the IRS will argue in the True the Vote case against a potential court order that could authorize outside technical experts to verify the truth of the agency’s claim that the emails are, in fact, irrevocably lost. You can read more about that case here.