House investigators said Tuesday that the computer hard drive of ex-agency official Lois Lerner -- a key figure in the IRS targeting scandal -- was only “scratched,” not irreparably damaged, as Americans have been led to believe.
GOP-led Ways and Means Committee investigators, in their quest to recover missing Lerner emails, learned her hard drive was damaged but recoverable by talking to IRS information-technology experts, after the government originally refused to make them available, according to the committee.
“It is unbelievable that we cannot get a simple, straight answer from the IRS about this hard drive,” said committee Chairman Dave Camp.
The Michigan Republican said the new information also raises more questions about potential criminal wrongdoing at the IRS because the committee was told no data was recoverable and the physical hard drive was recycled and potentially shredded.
In addition, learning that the hard drive was only scratched also raises questions about why the IRS refused to use outside experts to recover the data.
“In fact, in-house professionals at the IRS recommended the agency seek outside assistance in recovering the data,” the committee said Tuesday in a release.
House investigators said they also are trying to determine whether the scratch was accidental or deliberate.
“If the IRS would just come clean and tell Congress and the American people what really happened, we could put an end to this,” Camp said. “Our investigators will not stop until we find the full truth.”
Lerner was the IRS’s exempt organizations director during the period of 2009 to mid-2011 -- when applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations were held up for extra scrutiny.
The committee also said the information gleamed from the new interviews conflicts with a July 18 IRS court filing that states the data on the hard drive was unrecoverable -- including years of missing emails.
On June 13, more than one year into the investigation, and one month after the committee was promised it would receive all of Lerner’s emails, Congress learned that potentially thousands of them, over roughly two years, were destroyed as a result of a 2011 computer crash.
The recent interviews are bolstered by former federal law-enforcement and Defense Department forensic experts also telling investigators that most of the data on a scratched drive should be recoverable, the committee said.
A declaration filed Friday by the IRS stated the agency tried but failed to recover the data. The agency also said it is not sure what happened to the hard drive, other than saying they think it was recycled, which according to the court filing means “shredded.”
The committee also said a review of internal IRS documents found Lerner’s computer was actually described as “recovered.”
The targeting to the groups applying to the IRS was made public in May 2013 by Lerner. She has since refused to testify before Congress, invoking the Fifth Amendment, and resigned in September 2013.
The IRS has turned over tens of thousands of emails to and from Lerner’s account and says it has recovered thousands of others that were lost when her government-issued computer crashed.
Democrats say there is no scandal and that Republicans are trying to turn it into an election-year issue.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, protested Monday about the continuing House investigations, including his committee’s plans to call IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to testify on Wednesday, for the third time over the past month.
"This public harassment of an agency head is not only an abuse of authority, but a dereliction of the committee's obligation to conduct responsible oversight on a host of other critical issues within our jurisdiction," he said.
Investigators also are still trying to learn whether the targeting of conservative groups was ordered by the White House.