Another Federal judge – the second in as many days – has ordered the IRS to explain how a trove of Lois Lerner’s emails was lost to an alleged hard drive crash. But instead of giving the agency 30 days to come up with the info, as a judge in a separate case did yesterday, today U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton gave the IRS one week.
Today’s order calls for the agency to spend the next week tracking down Lerner’s junked hard drive and to return for a report to the court on July 18. If the IRS comes back empty, Walton wants an IRS tech official with “firsthand knowledge” of the hard drive’s chain of custody to submit a sworn affidavit explaining why it can’t be retrieved. He also instructed the IRS to include information about the expertise and qualifications of staffers who had previously handled Lerner’s computer after its failure had originally been reported.
Walton presided today over a hearing in the case, which pits the IRS as a defendant against a lawsuit filed by Texas-based True the Vote, one of the conservative groups allegedly singled out by the IRS for political discrimination as the 2012 presidential election season unfolded.
True the Vote had asked Walton last week to authorize independent technical experts to conduct a thorough forensic examination; one that would attempt to determine the truth of the IRS’ claim that approximately two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails cannot be retrieved from any computer, anywhere.
But today’s order concerns only the guts of Lois Lerner’s work computer. It doesn’t explicitly order the IRS to give a full accounting of potential evidence lost from email servers, mobile devices, backup systems and the like. And Walton did not address today the possibility that a search for that evidence by outside experts might become a part of this case, although it is his prerogative to grant or deny that request as the case progresses.
Walton’s one-week order comes only a day after another Federal judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, gave the agency a 30-day deadline to produce an account of how the emails went missing, and to designate an IRS official to take an oath affirming the accuracy of that report. Sullivan’s order comes in a separate Freedom of Information lawsuit against the IRS filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch.