June 13, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Emails lost in tea party probe

IRS tells Congress official's computer crash impedes probe

Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner retired last fall. In May, the House voted to hold her in contempt of Congress. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Washington— The Internal Revenue Service said Friday it has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy, sparking outrage from congressional investigators who have been investigating the agency for more than a year.

The IRS told Congress on Friday that it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed.

Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups.

“The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’ response to congressional inquiries,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the inspector general.”

The Ways and Means Committee is one of three committees investigating the IRS over its handling of tea party applications from 2010 to 2012. The Justice Department and the IRS inspector general are also investigating.

Investigators have shown that IRS officials in Washington were closely involved in the handling of tea party applications, many of which languished for more than a year without action. But they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it.

If anyone outside the agency was involved, investigators were hoping for clues in Lerner’s emails.

The IRS said technicians went to great lengths trying to recover data from Lerner’s computer in 2011. In emails provided by the IRS, technicians said they sent the computer to a forensic lab run by the agency’s criminal investigations unit. But to no avail.

The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from 2009 to 2011 because Lerner had copied in other IRS employees. The agency said it pieced together the emails from the computers of 82 other IRS employees. But an untold number are gone.

The IRS placed Lerner on administrative leave shortly after the congressional hearing. She retired last fall. In May, the House voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. Her case has been turned over to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.