Lois Lerner’s emails might not be missing after all. Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch claims the Obama administration intentionally lied about the emails’ ultimate demise—they have been backed up all along.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton released a statement and appeared on Fox News on Monday, claiming to have “a jaw-dropping revelation.” He said Justice Department attorneys representing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the scandal involving the agency’s targeting of conservative groups told Judicial Watch attorneys the federal government backs up all government computer records—including Lois Lerner’s missing emails—in case of a catastrophe.
Lerner is the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division who is accused of using her position to antagonize conservative groups. During the congressional investigation into the scandal, IRS officials claimed her hard drive crashed and was destroyed in 2011, meaning the emails most crucial to the corruption investigation were gone forever.
Not so, Fitton announced today. Although the emails do exist, Justice Department attorneys say finding them in the massive emergency backup would simply be “too onerous,” Fitton said.
“All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion,” Fitton told Fox News. “The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be—but dishonestly withheld this information.”
Fitton hasn’t named the government attorneys who made the revelation, and they haven’t come forward. But he maintains the Obama administration’s claims about lost or damaged records—which would include sworn testimony—has been “malarkey.”
“They could get these records, but they don’t want to,” Fitton said. “They haven’t told anyone about it until, frankly, we were able to get it out of them on Friday.”
The IRS scandal began in May 2013, when an inspector general showed the agency had been singling out conservative-sounding groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. The Obama administration blamed the incident on rogue officials in Cincinnati, but emails that surfaced in May pointed to an agency-wide practice.
Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress. She has been held in contempt, and investigators have established that the IRS destroyed both her hard drive and her Blackberry without following federal law for destroying public records.
It’s not clear whether the backups Fitton claims to have learned about are unrelated to the six-month disaster recovery tapes IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress about in June. It would have been “very complicated,” “very costly,” and “difficult” to extract Lerner’s emails from the tapes, Koskinen testified. The IRS didn’t try to get the emails, he admitted, during the six months that particular recovery tape existed.
If Judicial Watch’s claims prove to be true, and another backup system exists, the effects could be far-reaching. The Obama administration claims to have lost emails and hard drives in other ongoing investigations as well, including for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Elections Commission.
The Society of Professional Journalists, along with investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson and others, has joined a growing chorus accusing the Obama administration of avoiding transparency and squelching press freedom. On Aug. 5, nearly two-thirds of the federal government’s 73 inspectors general—including Obama appointees—wrote to Congress claiming the administration systematically denies them access to documents necessary to do their jobs.
The Obama administration, through new White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, continues to declare itself “absolutely” the most transparent administration in American history.