June 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

OUR EDITORIAL

IRS questions merit a special prosecutor

Lost emails, administration's lack of transparency are not inspiring trust in its explanations

The Obama administration could be right in dismissing the IRS scandal as political opportunism by his Republican opponents. But itís harder to tell for sure due to the administrationís blatant lack of transparency. If thereís nothing to hide, whyís the White House trying so hard to hide it?

The latest hint of a cover-up comes with the governmentís disclosure that the emails of Lois Lerner, the central IRS figure in the controversy, sent during a key period cannot be located because of a computer crash.

That seems awfully convenient. In this day, when weíre told nothing ever disappears from the Internet, weíre expected to believe that there are no backup systems that have captured Lernerís emails for posterity.

The email correspondence has the potential to settle the question of whether the targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS leading up to President Barack Obamaís 2012 re-election was simply the work of overzealous agents, as Obama contends, or a broader conspiracy to silence the administrationís critics.

Lerner seems the person to answer that question, but the now-on leave head of tax exempt status requests refuses to testify before a congressional committee, citing her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The House found her in contempt, but so far Attorney General Eric Holder has not moved to prosecute her.

Without her emails, and barring an unlikely move by the Justice Department to pressure her to testify, itís impossible to know what Lerner knew.

Midlandís Dave Camp, the Republican who heads the House committee investigating the IRS, is so frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the administration that heís calling for a special prosecutor.

Heís not the only one. The vanishing Lerner emails have prompted calls from several quarters for a special prosecutor, even from some who believe it will benefit Democrats to offload the scandal to an independent investigator before the fall elections.

A special prosecutor would have the power to subpoena federal computer records to determine what happened to the emails and whether copies can be found elsewhere on the government IT network.

The ongoing congressional investigation is fraught with partisanship. It is not likely to answer the question of whether the Obama administration manipulated the levers of government for political advantage. House members are taking sides based on their political alignment, and the probe is more about tearing down or defending the president than it is about finding the truth.

The administrationís internal investigation is being carried out by an Obama political donor. That does not inspire confidence in an objective outcome.

Americans must trust their government. They particularly must be certain an agency as powerful as the IRS will not punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

An independent special prosecutor is the best course for establishing that trust.

It's hard to believe that the very same Lois Lerner emails investigators ... (Carolyn Kaster / AP)