The dog ate Lois Lerner’s homework (and emails). If the IRS say it, it must be true.
The Internal Revenue Service has lost two years worth of emails to and from embattled former tax official Lois Lerner, the agency told congressional investigators on Friday.
The IRS promised on May 8 to turn over all her emails but now blames a computer crash for huge tranches of missing documents.
Lerner is under investigation for allegedly orchestrating a years-long program that targeted tea party groups and other conservative organizations for unusually intrusive scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status beginning in the year before the 2010 congressional midterm elections.
The House Ways and Means Committee, one of two bodies probing the case, said Friday that the IRS says that for the period of January 2009 through April 2011, the only Lerner emails it can find are those that were sent to or from other IRS employees.
Emails whose sender or recipient was outside the government, or inside other agencies, have mysteriously disappeared.
Those include the White House, the Justice and Treasury Departments, the Federal Elections Commission and Democratic congressional offices.
Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said Friday that ‘the fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable.’
‘He also said the claim ‘calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to congressional inquiries.’
Camp pointed a finger at IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who pledged in a March 26 hearing to produce every document the agency had which might be related to the scandal.
‘It appears now that was an empty promise,’ Camp said, complaining that without emails between Lerner and government officials outside the IRS, ‘we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone.’
Republicans in Congress have charged that Obama administration officials were part of a conspiracy to hamstring tea party groups in 2010 and beyond, since denying or delaying their tax-exemption applications prevented them from raising money during the years when their influence was at its highest.
Hundreds of the right-wing organizations were forced to wait more than three years for action on their applications, while politically liberal groups were typically approved quickly.
In one case Lerner, then in charge of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, personally signed the approval granting tax-exempt status to the Barack H. Obama Foundation, a charity headed by the president’s half-brother.
That approval was granted in less than a month, and back-dated – a highly unusual move – to allow the charity to avoid paying taxes on money it had raised prior to applying.
Congress held Lerner in contempt this year following her refusal in 2013 and 2014 to obey a subpoena and testify in an open hearing.
She had invoked her Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, but after reading a lengthy statement absolving herself of any wrongdoing.
The IRS said Friday that it is producing 67,000 emails written by and to Lerner between 2009 and 2013.
‘The IRS is committed to working with Congress,’ the agency said in a statement.
‘The IRS has remained focused on being thorough and responding as quickly as possible to the wide-ranging requests from Congress while taking steps to protect underlying taxpayer information.’
California Republican Darrell Issa isn’t buying it. ‘Isn’t it convenient for the Obama administration?’ the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a statement.
‘Do they really expect the American people to believe that, after having withheld these emails for a year, they’re just now realizing the most critical time period is missing?’
‘The supposed loss of Lerner’s emails further blows a hole in the credibility of claims that the IRS is complying with congressional requests,’ his statement barked, ‘and their repeated assurances that they’re working to get to the truth.’
‘If there wasn’t nefarious conduct that went much higher than Lois Lerner in the IRS targeting scandal, why are they playing these games?’
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said late on Friday that the IRS’s claim ‘doesn’t pass the smell test and smacks of obstruction of justice.’
‘How is it that so many emails were simply “lost?” Why was there no data backup?’ she asked.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS’s failure to produce all of Lerner’s emails would be ‘an outrageous impediment to our investigation.’
Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax-hike group helmed by Reagan-era conservative warrior Grover Norquist, went further still – drawing a parallel to the Nixon administration.
‘This is the worst attempt to blame technology in service of a cover-up since the infamous “18-minute gap” during the Nixon Watergate crisis,’ Norquist said Friday.
‘Only in this case the gap is not 18 minutes, but two years. This cover-up is far worse.’
President Richard Nixon’s loyal secretary Rose Mary Woods claimed in 1973 that she caused the infamous ‘gap’ in recordings of a June 20, 1972 Oval Office meeting when she held down the wrong button on a tape recorded while answering a phone call.
Demonstrating later how this might have happened, Woods showed reporters how she claimed to have operated unrelated telephone and tape-recorder controls located several feet apart, contorting her limbs in what journalists mockingly called ‘the ‘Rose Mary Stretch.’
Democrats at the time alleged that the erasure was a deliberate attempt to erase part of a conversation between Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
White House lawyers didn’t turn the tapes over to Federal Judge John Sirica, who had subpoenaed them, until a week after they first knew the gap existed.
Under a cloud of suspicion and facing unrelenting questions about his involvement in the break-in, Nixon resigned less than a year later.
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David Martosko is The Daily Caller‘s executive editor.