The seemingly endless investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups seeking non-profit status took another turn late Tuesday when it was revealed that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which oversees the IRS, had discovered a trove of some 6,400 emails to and from the IRS official at the center of the scandal, many of which had been presumed lost in an alleged computer crash.
The discovery of the emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, was first reported by The Hill newspaper on Tuesday night. It quickly made the rounds of conservative media and lawmakers, who have long suspected that “lost” emails might contain evidence of a broader problem than the IRS has been willing to admit.
The scandal involved the IRS division in Cincinnati, which Lerner oversaw. It was revealed that the employees used a set of key words to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status that should receive extra scrutiny. The key words were meant to identify groups that might be engaging in political activity that would make them ineligible for tax-exemptions, but they were heavily weighted toward terms that seemed to target conservative-leaning organizations in particular.
The additional scrutiny meant delays in approvals for an unknown number of organizations, all in advance of the 2012 election campaign. Congressional Republicans, already no fans of the IRS, were incensed at the idea that conservative groups might have been prevented from fully engaging in the campaign and launched multiple investigations. Lerner herself was memorably called to appear before a congressional hearing, where she refused to testify.
The investigations were stymied, in part, by a combination of factors related to a Lerner’s IRS-issued computer crashing in 2011 and the agency’s failure to have a strong system in place to capture documents considered “federal records.”
Like other employees at the IRS, Lerner was expected to determine what records needed to be preserved and to keep a hard copy of them. The agency repeatedly told Congress that its email servers regularly overwrote their backup tapes and that the crash of Lerner’s computer meant that any emails that could not be recovered from other senders or recipients within the agency were lost.
Investigators have, for the past two years, occasionally announced that a new trove of emails to or from Lerner had been uncovered. Tuesday’s report, according to The Hill, suggested that some, but not all, of the 6,400 have not yet been turned over to congressional investigators.
In a statement to the newspaper, the IRS said the discovery was “an encouraging development that will help resolve remaining questions and dispel uncertainty surrounding the emails.”
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