by T. Becket Adams • Washington Examiner
As lawmakers return to Washington to continue the search for thousands of missing subpoenaed emails related to the Internal Revenue Service’s alleged targeting of conservative groups, questions abound.
Among the most pressing is the fact that a Blackberry belonging to Lois Lerner, a former official at the center of the scandal, was wiped clean shortly after investigators started asking questions about her alleged role in the targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Despite the fact that this revelation first came to light in August, the IRS has yet explain why this was done.
Considering her former role as chief of the IRS’ tax exempt division, and its proximity to the targeting scandal, the decision to wipe her phone after investigators started asking questions is both suspicious and troubling.
The phone being cleaned out is in addition to Lerner invoking her *Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — prompting Congress to vote in May to hold her in contempt — and on top of the fact that thousands of subpoenaed emails have gone missing. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that, “The IRS says it has lost emails from five more workers who are part of congressional investigations into the treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax exempt status.”
Multiple news outlets, including the Washington Examiner, have unsuccessfully pressed IRS officials for answers on Lerner’s Blackberry.
“I’m not aware,” an IRS spokesman told the Examiner Friday. “I’m going to have to get back to you on that… Uh, let me see if there’s anything I can get for you on that.”
As of the publication of this article, the IRS official has not yet responded to the Examiner’s inquiries.
The Washington Post experienced something similar when it pressed IRS officials for answers.
IRS attorney Thomas J. Kane “offered no explanation for why the IRS ‘removed or wiped clean’ the data, and the IRS did not respond to the same question when asked … on Wednesday,” the Post reported.
Sources say top Republican lawmakers intend to press for answers.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and other committee members are looking into the issue and “asking the IRS for additional information,” a source with knowledge of the situation told the Examiner Friday.
Additionally, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight Committee, plans to question IRS officials about the Blackberry and will likely make it a topic of focus in future hearings, a spokesman for the Republican congressman told the Examiner.
News of Lerner’s Blackberry first came to light in August after U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan told the IRS to explain its efforts to recover thousands of missing emails that supposedly vanished in a computer crash in 2011.
Responding to Judge Emmet’s order, an IRS official in an official declaration stated that the agency never tried to recover copies of Lerner’s emails from her Blackberry. Further, in a separate declaration, an IRS official confirmed that the agency “removed or wiped clean” information from Lerner’s phone at around the time that the agency came under scrutiny for its alleged targeting conservative groups.
The independent watchdog group Judicial Watch, an organization whose lawsuit against the IRS uncovered the Blackberry issue, suspects that Lerner’s old phone may contain backups or copies of the missing emails sought by congressional investigators.
Lerner’s attorney maintains that she did nothing illegal or improper in the years leading up to her resigning in disgrace, mired deep in controversy and scandal.