WASHINGTON – The IRS can’t say with certainty what happened to the computer hard drive used by Lois Lerner, or exactly where it is now, but the agency has provided a federal judge sworn testimony indicating it was probably destroyed.
That means it is doubtful the judge will let the conservative group True the Vote have an independent expert do a forensic examination of what happened to the hard drive.
But the group’s lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, told WND it is still “is a big step in the right direction” because “we have more information today than Congress has gotten from the hearsay testimony of the IRS commissioner.”
On July 11, Judge Reggie Walton ordered the agency to find out what had happened to the hard drive, after IRS Commissioner John Koskinen revealed in June that a computer malfunction had caused the loss of two years of emails belonging to Lerner, whose tax-exempt division improperly targeted conservative groups.
In a declaration made under oath, Stephen L. Manning, a supervisor in the IRS’ Information Technology business unit, said the agency keeps track of its desktop and laptop computers by tagging them with bar codes.
Lerner’s laptop had the serial number 2AGAHC11XN0ON.
But, Manning testified, the IRS does not keep track of the serial numbers of the computers’ component parts, such as hard drives.
That is why, he implied, the IRS does not know where the crucial piece of equipment is now, testifying it is “impossible to specifically identify the hard drive through any Internal Revenue Service equipment system.”
And, that is why, he testified, “to the best of my knowledge no one at the Internal Revenue Service has firsthand knowledge of the serial number on the hard drive that was in the laptop computer assigned to Lois Lerner at the time of the help desk complaint on June 13, 2011.”
He said a technician replaced the hard drive in Lerner’s laptop and had it returned to her.
Manning said Lerner’s hard drive was then “delivered to the IRS Criminal Investigation Division Electronic Crimes Forensic Laboratory for additional efforts to recover data from the malfunctioning hard drive.”
He said, as far as he knew, those efforts were unsuccessful and the hard drive was returned to the IT department.
Manning testified, to the best of his knowledge, the hard drive was then destroyed.
He said, as far as he knew, in accordance with standard procedure, all information on the hard drive was erased to protect any confidential taxpayer information.
To the best of his knowledge, the hard drive was then destroyed by shredding; then it was recycled.
The testimony revealed another bizarre turn in the saga: The technician, or, specialist, who tried to recover the data from Lerner’s hard drive on that June day in 2011 may have been blind.
Manning testified, “According to the Specialist, prior to joining the Internal Revenue Service, from 2004 to 2005, formal Microsoft training was completed through Lions World Services for the Blind …”
The testimony didn’t indicate how blind, if blind at all, that person may have been. That specialist also appears to be highly qualified and extensively trained, as revealed by Judge Walton’s order that all the qualifications of those who worked on the hard drive be reported.
True the Vote is hopeful it will be able to make inroads into the IRS’ targeting of conservatives where congressional investigators have been stymied by what GOP lawmakers portray as the agency’s lack of cooperation.
Judge Walton encouraged that hope July 11 by saying, unlike Congress, he is easily able to throw people in jail if they refuse to cooperate.
Attorney Mitchell told WND she is encouraged that True the Vote’s lawsuit against the IRS is moving in “the right direction of getting to the truth of what happened” and that her legal team will now confer as to their next step.
As WND reported a week ago Thursday, a federal judge ordered the IRS to explain, under oath, exactly what happened to Lerner’s missing emails.
Then, on Friday, in the same District Court, Judge Walton ordered the IRS to explain, under oath, what happened to Lerner’s computer hard drive.
IRS Commissioner Koskinen had testified before Congress last month that the hard drive was recycled, and presumably destroyed.
Walton ordered the IRS to tell him whatever it knows about the hard drive that Lerner says malfunctioned and lost two years of emails sought by congressional investigators, within one week.
Walton issued the order July 11, demanding to know the serial number of Lerner’s hard drive and what happened to it.
The judge’s order specifically directed the IRS to submit to “an affidavit or declaration signed under oath by an appropriate individual with firsthand knowledge that”:
- “Outlines the expertise and qualifications of the individual or individuals currently conducting the forensic examination as part of the Inspector General’s investigation;
- “Outlines the expertise and qualifications of the individual or individuals who previously conducted forensic examinations or otherwise attempted to recover information from the computer hard drive at issue;
- “Provides a projected date of completion of the Inspector General’s investigation;
- “States whether the serial number, if any, assigned to the computer hard drive at issue is known; and
- “If the serial number is known, why the computer hard drive cannot be identified and preserved.”
Lerner claims her emails were lost when her hard drive crashed on July 13, 2011. She said that caused her to lose all her emails sent to recipients outside the IRS from mid-2009 to mid-2011.
A Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, is doing the investigation into Lerner’s missing emails.
The Treasury Department actually oversees the IRS, so attorneys for True the Vote, which is suing the IRS for damages, had requested the judge allow independent experts to do a forensic examination of what happened to Lerner’s hard drive and to see if they could recover any of the missing emails.
Judge Walton stopped short of that, but was clearly sympathetic to their concerns, demanding that TIGTA provide so much information in such a short time to the court.
Attorney Mitchell had told WND she was very encouraged because the judge had decided the time had come to hear from people with direct knowledge of the investigation into Lerner’s missing emails.
True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht told WND she was very happy with the development because the judge showed “a keen interest in having someone look at what investigators are actually doing.”
Engelbrecht could be the poster gal for federal abuse in the IRS scandal, having had an entire alphabet soup of federal agencies come knocking on her door after she helped found True the Vote and King Street Patriots.
Even though the Englebrechts had spent two decades running a business without any interest from federal agencies, once she applied for tax-exempt status for her grassroots groups, the Texan was suddenly audited by the IRS and ATF, received multiple visits by OSHA and ATF, and even was visited by the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
The Engelbrechts were subjected to an astounding 15 audits or inquiries, in all.
Lerner is under investigation by Congress for targeting conservative groups such as True the Vote.
She has admitted the IRS improperly targeted groups seeking 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, but has refused to testify before Congress, twice invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
WND broke the news last week that Rep. Steve Stockman had submitted a motion in the House of Representatives calling for the arrest of Lerner for contempt of Congress.
Lerner’s missing emails were sent during the very period in which the IRS targeted conservative groups.
A week ago, Thursday, federal Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered the IRS to make a sworn declaration in writing describing how Lerner could have lost all the emails she sent to other departments from mid-2009 to mid-2011.
The declaration is due by Aug. 10.
The judge also assigned federal magistrate John Facciola, an expert in e-discovery, to find out if there is another way to retrieve the emails.
The judge’s ruling was a significant victory for Judicial Watch, the nonprofit government watchdog group which had filed a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request for Lerner’s emails from 2010 to the present.
Judicial Watch has been seeking the emails since May 2013 and requested the hearing to have the IRS explain what happened to Lerner’s emails, and to explain why the group was never informed they were missing.
Lerner is not the only IRS employee under investigation whose emails are missing.
Incredibly, the IRS says the hard drives of six other employees also lost their emails due to hard drive crashes.
Just one month ago, the IRS belatedly informed congressional committees that Lerner’s emails were missing.
The IRS then informed Congress that Lerner’s computer hard drive was recycled and apparently destroyed.
The IRS also then informed Congress that it did not keep backup copies of emails for more than six months, because they were stored on a on old-fashioned tape that is re-used every six months.
Members of Congress were incredulous that the IRS, which requires taxpayers to save records going back seven years, did not save emails for more than six months.
As WND reported, when asked by members of the House Oversight Committee on June 23 why the IRS used such an antiquated system, Commissioner Kokinen testified that the estimated cost of $10 million to $30 million was too much.
Expressing disbelief, Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wondered, given the IRS’ $1.8 billion IT budget, should that not have been a priority?
“If we had the right resources, there would be a lot of priorities,” Koskinen testily retorted.
However, Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn., pointed out that $10 million to $30 million was not much compared to the $89 million the IRS paid in bonuses last year, including $1 million to employees who actually owed back taxes.