Judging by the contents of a newly-released email written in 2013 by Lois Lerner, the former IRS exempt organizations director understood – and feared – the possibility that Congress might one day exercise its power to peruse the agency’s electronic communications.
It’s an amazing coincidence, then, that both the paper and the digital versions of those communications are missing now.
The House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the IRS scandal involving the discriminatory targeting of conservative organizations, finally obtained the 2013 email last week and released it today via its website, following a hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
Koskinen told the panel he’d never seen the email in question.
The contents are revealing. Lerner asked Maria Hooke, an IRS tech employee, along with another exempt organizations employee whether communications conducted via a Microsoft messaging system were searchable:
I had a question today about OCS [Microsoft Office Communications Server]. I was cautioning folks about email and how we have several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails – so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails. Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable – I don’t know, but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?
One can only speculate whom Lerner was talking about when she stated she “had a question today.”
The Oversight Committee flatly accuses Lerner of “leading an IRS effort to hide information from Congressional inquiries.”
“In e-mails withheld from the Committee until only last week, Lerner was apparently concerned that IRS conversations taking place within the agency’s instant messenger program could end up in the hands of Congress along with requested e-mails,” the Committee website asserts. “An IRS technology employees responded that ‘OCS messages are not set to automatically save’ but cautioned that ‘parties involved in an OCS conversation can copy and save the contents of the conversation to an email or file.’ Lerner responded, ‘Perfect.’”
That conversation took place less than two weeks after an IRS Inspector General’s preliminary report first accused the agency of discriminatory targeting of conservative groups. Lerner would later “break” news of that report, the Committee noted, by fielding a staged question during a meeting of tax lawyers before the American Bar Association.