In a sensational press release issued Tuesday afternoon, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) claimed that he had evidence that the Internal Revenue Service destroyed a computer belonging to a key figure in the IRS targeting scandal despite being told by experts that its data was recoverable. Camp also insinuated that the original damage to the computer was done intentionally.
Camp’s committee has been just one of several Congressional panels investigating the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status in the run up to the 2012 election. Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency’s Exempt Organizations division, refused to testify before Congress. It was later revealed that an untold number of emails sent to and by Lerner between 2009 and 2011 – a period key to Camp’s investigation – were lost in a 2011 computer crash.
On Tuesday, Camp’s release reported that his investigators had learned that experts informed agency officials that Lerner’s hard drive “was ‘scratched,’ but data was recoverable.” He suggested that this information contradicts an IRS court filing from last week describing the data as “unrecoverable.” Camp also alleged that the IRS – which has an extremely advanced computer forensics program of its own – “refused to utilize outside experts to recover the data,” raising “more questions about potential criminal wrong doing at the IRS.”
The release notes ominously that “It is unknown whether the scratch was accidental or deliberate” – a neat little way of using a bland statement of empirical fact to insinuate criminal wrongdoing.
Additionally, committee investigators going through the IRS’s internal IT tracking system apparently found one reference to Lerner’s hard drive as being “recovered.” IRS employees, the release said, “were unable to confirm the accuracy of the documents or the meaning of the entry.
To be sure, Camp’s committee has issued dramatic press releases in the past, only to have the IRS correct the record later. For instance, last month Camp released a press release suggesting that data from six other computers belonging to key figures in the investigation had also been lost due to computer crashes. In testimony before Camp’s panel shortly afterward, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen pointed out that much of the data from those six computers had already been recovered, and that it was possible all of it would be retrieved.
Despite being out of the public eye recently, Tuesday’s release suggests that the investigation into the targeting of conservative groups by the nation’s tax collector is far from over. In fact, the new accusations were released just hours after reports surfaced suggesting that back-up tapes that might hold Lerner’s correspondence may not have been destroyed on schedule, as the IRS has previously asserted.
Camp expressed frustration with the agency, claiming that the investigation was being dragged out unnecessarily.
“It is these constant delays and late revelations that have forced this investigation to go on so long,” he said. “If the IRS would just come clean and tell Congress and the American people what really happened, we could put an end to this. Our investigators will not stop until we find the full truth.”
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