In a stunning revelation, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch told Fox News that Justice Department attorneys have intimated that Lois Lerner's "lost" emails likely exist in back-up computers.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the news came during a Friday phone call with Department of Justice attorneys representing the IRS in Judicial Watch's FOIA lawsuit against the IRS.
Fitton said DOJ attorneys told him the federal government backs up all computer records to ensure the continuity of government in event of a catastrophe. They told him that retrieving the emails from Lerner, a former IRS official, would be "too onerous" - a legal burden that can exempt an agency from complying with FOIA requests.
However, an administration official told Fox News Monday night, “ There was no new back-up system described last week to Judicial Watch. Government lawyers who spoke to Judicial Watch simply referred to the same email retention policy that Commissioner (John) Koskinen had described in his Congressional testimony.”
Earlier, in describing the phone conversation, Fitton told Fox News,"So everything we've been hearing about scratched hard drives about missing emails of Lois Lerner, other IRS officials, other officials in the Obama administration, it's all been a pack of malarkey.
"They could get these records but they don't want to, and they haven’t told anyone about it until we were able to get it out of them on Friday."
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.
Investigators have been deeply skeptical that Lerner’s emails were truly gone. Law requires government emails be backed up. Also, data from crashed hard drives can often be recovered, and all emails have a recipient or a sender.
"Somebody in Lois Lerner's position has an executive assistant who has access to her email just as though she did," said Morgan Wright, a computer forensics expert. "So whatever email comes into Lois Lerner’s box goes into her administrator’s box as well.”
Administration and IRS officials have repeatedly said Lerner's lost emails no longer exist. In congressional testimony on July 20, IRS Commissioner Koskinen said, "The actual hard drive after it was determined that it was dysfunctional... was recycled and destroyed in the normal process."
In previous sworn declarations, attorneys for the IRS have made no mention of back-up computers where Lerner’s emails could exist.
Doug McKelway joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in November 2010 and serves as a Washington-based correspondent. Click here for more information on Doug McKelway.