The IRS’s inspector general has told Congress that it may have discovered as many as 30,000 of the lost Lois G. Lerneremails, despite the IRS’s repeated insistence both in testimony to both Capitol Hill and federal courts that they were beyond recovery, congressional committees said Friday.
Investigators are now trying to figure out if they can to the data in a readable format — a process that could take weeks, according to a congressional aide.
The inspector general discovered the potential emails among 744 disaster recovery tapes that backup IRS systems, and found up to 30,000 Lerner emails from 2009 to 2011, which covers the period of emails she reported lost in a computer hard drive crash.
The revelation raised a host of questions about the IRS’s claims that the emails had been irretrievably lost — assertions the agency and its new chief, John Koskinen, had made both while testifying under oath to Congress and in court papers defending against lawsuits from several of the conservative groups who had been denied approval for nonprofit status.
Ms. Lerner ran the IRS division that improperly blocked and intrusively scrutinized conservative groups’ applications for nonprofit status. She retired from the agency last year, but remains a central figure in the investigation into the agency’s behavior.
Tens of thousands of emails she sent or received have been turned over, but the IRS said a computer crash caused the loss of potentially tens of thousands of other messages. The agency tried to recover some of those by asking employees to search their mailboxes for messages they may have sent to or received from Ms. Lerner, but investigators criticized the agency for not doing more to recover Ms. Lerner’s computer hard drive.
“Though it is unclear whether TIGTA has found all of the missing Lois Lernere-mails, there may be significant information in this discovery,” said Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican.
He said they want to see the emails in order to ascertain Ms. Lerner’s mindset and see who she was speaking with outside of the IRS as the agency was holding up conservative groups’ applications.
Mr. Issa also said the revelation signals that the IRS again failed to give a complete story to Congress. The agency waited months before telling Congress it had lost the Lerner emails, and later said it had no way to recover them.
IRS officials didn’t have comment Friday afternoon.
Senate Finance Committee leaders said in a joint statement they are in the “final stages” of their investigation, but said it’s unlikely they will finish until next year, when the GOP takes control of the committee and will have a bigger say in the final report.
“From the onset of our bipartisan investigation, we’ve remained committed to getting to the truth and ensuring that the IRS treats all tax-exempt applicants fairly,” Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and ranking Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said.