WASHINGTON — Congressional investigators are fuming over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy.
The IRS said Lois Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011, wiping out an untold number of emails that were being sought by congressional investigators. The investigators want to see all of Lerner’s emails from 2009 to 2013 as part of their probe into the way agents handled applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups.
Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications by some conservative groups.
“Do they really expect the American people to believe that, after having withheld these emails for a year, they’re just now realizing the most critical time period is missing?” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “If there wasn’t nefarious conduct that went much higher than Lois Lerner in the IRS targeting scandal, why are they playing these games?”
The Oversight Committee is one of three congressional 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.
Congressional 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 so far, they have not publicly produced evidence that anyone outside the agency directed the targeting or even knew about it.
If anyone in the Obama administration outside the agency was involved, investigators were hoping for clues in Lerner’s emails.
“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-Mich., 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.”