A high-profile attorney representing many conservative groups suing the IRS for harassment over their applications for tax-exempt status isn’t buying the federal government’s claim that more than two years of critical emails are suddenly missing, and she is demanding answers.
On Friday, the IRS announced that emails to and from former Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner were missing between the beginning of 2009 and mid-2011, the exact stretch in which the tea party was swelling in activity and political influence.
“Just when you think they can’t think of anything more bizarre to say that they’ve done or not done, then they come up with this,” said Cleta Mitchell, a highly regarded Washington attorney who is suing the IRS on behalf of True the Vote and other groups alleging IRS misconduct.
“They are required under many court decisions and many federal statutes to retain information that would be discoverable and relevant on issues related to litigation,” she said.
As a result, Mitchell is taking swift action in demanding answers to how the emails suddenly vanished and what the government plans to do about it.
“We sent a letter to the (Justice Department) and to the attorneys for Lois Lerner too busy to and the other IRS defendants yesterday, giving them until noon Wednesday to respond to several questions,” Mitchell said. “If they don’t respond, we will file a motion in court to allow for an independent forensics expert to have access to the computers and the hard drives and to take the necessary steps to recover and preserve the evidence.”
Lerner’s emails are also being sought by congressional investigators. According to new reports, the emails were said to be lost in a series of seven hard-drive crashes, and the IRS says it doesn’t have a centralized archive. The agency claims it erases backup tapes and reuses them every six months. The IRS also said Tuesday that it cannot locate emails from six more employees involved in the targeting scandal.
Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., criticized “gross mismanagement” at the agency but added, “Every equipment failure is not a conspiracy.” However, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp, R-Mich, said, “Plot lines in Hollywood are more believable than what we are getting from this White House and the IRS.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., took to Twitter to ask, “If there wasn’t nefarious conduct that went higher than Lois Lerner, then why is the IRS playing these games?”
When Lerner purportedly attempted to recover some of the missing emails in 2011, she was told it was impossible. In an email to the IRS tech staff, she wrote, “Sometimes stuff just happens.”
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently assured House lawmakers that the emails existed and were carefully protected. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, posted a video of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testifying before the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee in March that more than 90,000 employee emails “get taken off and stored in servers.” He’s scheduled to testify about the emails next week.
Mitchell isn’t buying the whole explanation and doesn’t think much of Koskinen, either.
“I think they’re lying,” she said “They’re either lying before or they’re lying now. John Koskinen may be a nice person but he’s like a puppet. He says whatever his staff tells him to say and he trots over to Congress and says things. If I were in his position, I would have some heads because he has just parroted whatever the underlings have told him to say ever since he got there.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Cleta Mitchell:
The IRS position lacks credibility on at least two fronts, according to Mitchell. First, she points out the investigation is nearly a year old and the IRS could have easily reported the missing emails when they were requested if they really didn't exist. Second, the IRS only agreed to turn over the emails a month ago, which makes the timing of this announcement even more suspect to her, and officials have made no effort to recover them.
"We have a bunch of people who are lawless," Mitchell said. "There are statutes that require the retention of these documents. They would not call in the FBI and the forensic experts at the NSA to recover these emails. I've had many, many emails from people around the country saying this is just not possible. This is not 1978. Those emails are not lost. They can be recovered. What I'm worried about is that they've proactively destroyed the sources of the hard drives and computers."
Mitchell insists her clients still have a strong case against the IRS, and the government's failure to preserve evidence can be construed by the courts as evidence against the IRS. Nonetheless, she said the Lerner emails could be very revealing.
"I think it would be a day-by-day diary," she said. "This was at the height of IRS targeting, when it began, how it began, the communications within the agency and outside the agency. She's at the center of the storm."
Fox News is reporting House Republicans have detailed dozens of examples proving President Obama and other Democrats pushed the IRS to pursue the conservative groups with added scrutiny.
The plaintiffs in Mitchell's case are resolute in their commitment to find justice in this case, according to Mitchell. She said this entire saga is not only another dagger in the reputation of the IRS but is also a scandal for how Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department have done everything they can to prevent the truth from coming to light.
"Everybody should be beyond being shocked at what the IRS can come up with," Mitchell said. "It's just breathtaking. This is the most lawless agency. The thing that is most distressing is that if we had independent law enforcement of the nation in Attorney General Eric Holder, instead of an enforcer for the Obama administration's political hatchet agenda, they could fear that the DOJ would step in and bring the FBI in and do whatever is necessary to recover and preserve documents and prosecute those for failure to follow the statutes."
She added, "However, we all know that the Department of Justice is complicit in this effort. My clients are more determined than ever to see this through with litigation, hoping that we'll get law enforcement through the federal courts."