The watchdog group Judicial Watch announced today that Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a request to issue an order requiring the IRS to provide answers by June 12, 2015, on the status of the Lois Lerner emails the IRS had previously declared lost. Judicial Watch raised questions about IRS’s handling of the missing emails issue in a court filing on June 2, 2005, demanding answers about Lois Lerner’s emails, which had been recovered from backup tapes. Judge Sullivan issued the court order on June 4, 2012.
Judicial Watch has argued that the IRS misled the court and Judicial Watch by withholding the truth about the existence and content of the backup tapes. In response to Judicial Watch’s litigation and pressure from Congress, some of Lerner’s emails had been recovered by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) despite testimony from the IRS Commissioner and representations to Judge Sullivan that Lerner’s emails had been irretrievably lost and destroyed. In its June 2 filing, Judicial Watch detailed:
Because the emails recovered from the backup tapes are responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] FOIA request, [Judicial Watch] respectfully requests that the Court order the IRS to submit to the Court a report by June 12, 2015 addressing the status of the emails recovered by TIGTA. The report should include:
(a) clarification as to whether all emails that have been recovered by TIGTA have now been turned over to the IRS for review and processing in response to Plaintiff’s request, the volume of those emails, and the time frame in which the IRS anticipates completing its review and production of responsive emails, and
(b) clarification as to whether the processing is complete for all 1,268 backup tapes to determine what emails are recoverable, and if not, when the processing is expected to be complete.
Two days after Judicial Watch’s filing, Judge Sullivan issued the following order:
The IRS is directed to respond to [Judicial Watch’s] notice by no later than June 12, 2015.
Judicial Watch is seeking Lerner’s emails as part of its Freedom of Information litigation over the Obama IRS’s targeting conservative political groups and citizens in the months leading up to President Obama’s reelection bid in 2012 (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Internal Revenue Service (No.1:13-cv-01559))
On February 26, 2015, TIGTA officials testified to House Government Oversight and Reform Committee that the oversight agency had received 744 backup tapes containing emails sent and received by Lerner. These tapes had been obtained one day after TIGTA requested that the IRS provide any backup tapes that contained records from Lerner’s email account. The IRS subsequently produced 424 additional backup tapes in February 2015. More than 32,000 emails from Lerner’s account were recovered from the initial 744 tapes; Judicial Watch is still seeking information regarding the contents of the additional 424 tapes.
Judicial Watch outlined the continuing IRS cover-up to Judge Sullivan:
The aforementioned testimony is uncontested that the recovered emails are from the email accounts of IRS officials, including Ms. Lerner, and cover the time period of (Judicial Watch’s) request. The testimony also is unequivocal that the IRS reported publicly that any backup tapes had been recycled and were no longer available without asking its technicians whether the tapes existed. [TIGTA Deputy Inspector General] Camus also testified that hard drives previously reported by the IRS to have been destroyed had not, in fact, been destroyed.
However, the IRS has yet to provide answers to Judicial Watch regarding the content of tapes it turned over to TIGTA, specifically “whether the emails are from all or only a subset of the 1,268 backup tapes located since July 1, 2014,” or whether additional emails remain to be recovered.
As the Obama State Department has argued with respect with Hillary Clinton’s hidden emails, the IRS has now argued that Lerner’s emails are no longer “IRS” records and it has no legal obligation to request them:
Agency counsel responded that the IRS is under no obligation to request copies of the emails recovered by TIGTA because they are allegedly not agency records. The IRS’s position is extraordinary considering that, not only are the backup tapes and emails obviously IRS records, but the Court went to great lengths to address the issue of the “missing” emails, including holding a status conference, ordering a meet and confer before a magistrate judge, and ordering the IRS to submit multiple declarations about its efforts to recover or locate the emails.
“The Obama IRS obstructed and lied to a federal judge and Judicial Watch in an effort to hide the truth about Lois Lerner’s emails,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The IRS, including its top political appointees IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and General Counsel William J. Wilkins, has much to answer for over its contempt of court and of Congress. And the Department of Justice officials enabling this cover-up in court need to be held accountable, as well. The IRS is out of control and Judicial Watch is happy that Judge Sullivan has taken this key step to remind the agency that it is accountable to the rule of law and the American people.”