Federal Judge Wants Answers From the IRS on Missing E-mails

Illustration by Braulio Amado

A federal judge signaled that he doesn’t believe the Internal Revenue Service did all it could to unearth the missing e-mails at the heart of a Congressional investigation into the agency’s treatment of Tea Party organizations.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan late yesterday asked the IRS for a list of steps it took to retrieve e-mails of Lois Lerner, who was the official in charge of determining whether the antitax Tea Party groups could qualify for nonprofit status. The IRS has said a crash of her hard drive wiped out e-mails from 2009 to 2011.

Sullivan, appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton in 1994, gave the IRS until next week to answer several questions about how it decided the e-mails were beyond recovery. Among them, he asked the agency whether it sought e-mails from alternate sources, such as a BlackBerry, iPhone, or iPad; to explain how it tracks computer parts when they’re serviced or taken out of use; and to provide a statement from an outside vendor “who can verify the IRS’ destruction policies concerning hard drives.”

The order in the lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, an activist group seeking the e-mails under the Freedom of Information Act, keeps alive a controversy that’s also been fanned by a Congressional investigation.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter in July saying the committee found Lerner e-mails from 2012 that show “deep animus toward conservatives” in her handling of the Tea Party groups, which are generally opposed to Obama administration policies. In one, Lerner referred to conservatives as “crazies,” according to Camp.

The earlier e-mails may be even more relevant because they come from the period after Obama took office in January 2009, when the groups were first forming.

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