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WASHINGTON – Federal judges have delivered a one-two punch to the midsection of the IRS on consecutive days in court.
As WND reported on Thursday, a federal judge ordered the IRS to explain, under oath, exactly what happened to the missing emails of former tax-exempt division chief Lois Lerner.
Friday, a different judge in the same District Court ordered the IRS to explain, under oath, what happened to Lerner’s computer hard drive.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified before Congress last month that the hard drive was recycled, and presumably destroyed.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton wants the IRS to tell him whatever they know about the hard drive that Lerner says malfunctioned and lost two years of emails sought by congressional investigators, and he wants those answers in just one week.
Walton issued an order Friday afternoon demanding to know the serial number of Lerner’s hard drive and, essentially, where it is now.
WND obtained a copy of the judge’s order which specifically directs 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 grassroots group True the Vote, which is suing the IRS for damages, 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, at least, for now, but was clearly sympathetic to their concerns, demanding that TIGTA provide so much information in such a short time to the court.
Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell 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, and then led, 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 on Thursday 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.
On 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 August 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 non-profit 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 Thursday’s 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 tax-payers 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, IRS Comissioner John Kokinen testified that the estimated cost of $10-to-30 million was too much.
Expressing disbelief, Chairman Darrell Issa,R-Calif., wondered, given the IRS’s $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,” testily retorted Koskinen.
However, Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn. pointed out that $10-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.
Thursday and Friday’s court action followed Wednesday’s revelation of more key emails from Lerner, during an Oversight hearing unrelated to the IRS scandal, that was actually called to look at improper government payments.
An email Lerner sent on April 9, 2013, warned colleagues to be careful about what they wrote in emails because Congress could end up reading them.
The IRS first became aware that Congress was looking into potential targeting of conservatives on Jun 3, 2011, when chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., sent a letter to the IRS.
“I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had 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,” Lerner wrote in April.
She also asked whether the IRS instant message communications were stored automatically.
When a tech staffer said they were not unless employees copied them, she replied, “Perfect.”
Less than a month later, Lerner would use a planted question at a conference event to admit the IRS had improperly targeted conservatives.