Lois Lerner’s attorney on Wednesday revised recent comments he made that suggested his client, a former Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s targeting controversy, did not save any of her e-mails, a fact that would put her in violation of federal record-keeping laws.
The Federal Records Act requires the preservation of official e-mails. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified last month before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that IRS officials generally print hard copies of important messages, for lack of a better system.
Koskinen indicated that Lerner followed agency protocol, saying: “She had hard-copy records.” But a Politico article last month quoted Lerner’s attorney, William Taylor, saying the former official didn’t print e-mails because she didn’t know she had to.
“If somebody is supposed to keep archived copies, that’s the IT department’s or her staff’s responsibility,” Taylor told Politico. “If she didn’t [print] something, it wasn’t because she tried to conceal anything.”
According to Politico, Taylor also e-mailed this message to the news organization before his comments were published: “Did she print out official records and file them[?] Answer. No, and she did not think it was required.”
Taylor said in a statement on Wednesday that the remarks are “not entirely accurate, probably due to a misunderstanding.” However, he told The Washington Post that he was not misquoted in the report.
Instead, Taylor said he meant to indicate that Lerner printed out some, but not all, of her e-mails. “During [Lerner's] tenure as director of Exempt Organizations, she did print out some e-mails, although not every one of the thousands she sent and received,” he said in his statement.
Politico defended its report on Wednesday, saying: “We stand by our story, which we verified with Mr. Taylor at the time of publication, and have since verified with him that we did not misquote him after his most recent statement.”
In his interview with the Post, Taylor defended Lerner’s record-keeping practices, saying the Federal Records Act is “poorly understood around town and effectuated in different ways at different agencies.”
The IRS has said it lost years worth of e-mails from Lerner, who has refused to testify about the agency’s targeting of nonprofit groups based on their names and policy positions. Officials claim the files went missing because of a hard-drive crash in June 2011.
The IRS has released e-mails showing that Lerner tried to recover her files with help from IT specialists and IRS forensic experts. The agency said it eventually destroyed her hard drive in compliance with agency policy after attempts to restore the data failed.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has suggested that Lerner or the IRS may have intentionally lost the e-mails. Taylor said Republicans are pitching conspiracy theories about the targeting controversy because “the initial investigation has demonstrated no wrongdoing.”
“The facts are that Ms. Lerner did not destroy any records subject to the Federal Records Act, she did not cause the computer assigned to her to fail, and she made every effort to recover the files on the computer,” Taylor said in his statement.
National Archivist David Ferriero told the House oversight committee last month that the IRS “did not follow the law” when it failed to inform the National Archives and Records Administration of Lerner’s lost e-mails.