An inspector general’s report on a damaged hard drive belonging to former Internal Revenue Service employee Lois Lerner should be complete “in a matter of weeks,” according to a letter the IRS sent to Congress.
In the letter yesterday to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen wrote that the agency is working to produce as much of Lerner’s e-mail and other information as possible.
“I had hoped to provide you with responses today,” he wrote, “but critical information is still being collected and verified.”
Lerner’s damaged hard drive has become a major point of contention over the past week as House Republicans accused the IRS of covering up information related to the scrutiny of Tea Party groups.
“The American people are very concerned that their government has targeted individual American citizens for harassment solely on the basis of their political beliefs,” Camp and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder in seeking a special prosecutor. “They deserve to know who ordered the targeting, when the targeting was ordered, and why.”
The IRS is seeking next week to send the Lerner e-mails it possesses to the congressional committees with authority to view information with taxpayer data on it.
According to Koskinen’s letter, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has asked the IRS “to treat TIGTA’s investigation as a priority and to avoid other activities around these issues until their work is concluded.”
It’s not clear from the letter what activities would be halted.
William Taylor III, a lawyer for Lerner, said in an interview with Politico that accusations his client is hiding something are “silly.” He also said Lerner didn’t print official e-mails or save them on a backup computer.
“She doesn’t know what happened,” Taylor said. “It’s a little brazen to think she did this on purpose.”
The hard drive included e-mails and other information from January 2009 through June 2011. The IRS has released e-mails showing that Lerner sought unsuccessfully to have the data recovered.
Backup tapes were recycled after six months, according to the IRS practice at the time, and the hard drive also was recycled.
Koskinen told Congress this week that he learned that there was a problem with Lerner’s computer in February, before his March testimony to lawmakers that the e-mails would be turned over to congressional investigators.
Koskinen said he was unaware of any effort to retrieve data from the backup tapes in the six months after the hard drive crash.
Lerner, who was the IRS’s director of exempt organizations, was placed on leave last year and then retired. She has refused to testify before Congress, invoking her constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination. Republicans have voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
Lerner’s employees gave extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups seeking nonprofit status. The May 2013 revelation of the IRS’s actions led to management changes at the agency and congressional investigations that are continuing.