House Republicans on Wednesday said a top Internal Revenue Service lawyer told congressional investigators that the agency is no longer certain whether it recycled all of the backup tapes containing missing e-mails for former IRS official Lois Lerner.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified before Congress last month that lost e-mails could not be recovered because the IRS erased and then recycled Lerner’s hard drive after it crashed in June 2011.
IRS officials last week submitted statements to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. about the agency’s efforts to recover data from Lerner’s hard drive. The court ordered the filings as part of a lawsuit from True the Vote, a nonprofit conservative group that the agency allegedly subjected to extra scrutiny as part of its efforts to identify groups engaged in too much political activity to qualify for tax-exempt status.
The IRS statements came from Stephen Manning, who is a top IT official for the IRS, and Todd Egaas, director of technology operations and investigative services for the agency. Here’s what they said:
* The hard-drive crash occurred with Lerner’s laptop. This may or may not be significant, as it leaves open the possibility that she may have stored e-mails on two hard drives — one from the laptop that crashed, and perhaps another from a desktop computer.
* Manning said Lerner’s laptop hard drive did not have a tracking code. He said the IRS does not place such codes on internal components. Nonetheless, the company that supplied the laptop recently provided the IRS with a serial number for the part. This is important because investigators could use the number to track down the device if it has not been destroyed.
* The IRS created an IT help-desk ticket to document the hard-drive crash on June 13, 2011. According to the ticket and the IT personnel involved, a mid-level specialist tried to recover the data from Lerner’s hard drive, but those efforts failed, Manning said.
* In July 2011, IT personnel sent the hard drive to an IRS forensics division, which made additional attempts to recover the hard drive’s data on July 22 , 2011 and Aug. 4, 2011, according to Egaas. “All of the analyst’s attempts were unsuccessful in recovering any data from the hard drive,” he said.
* The forensics division returned the device to IT personnel through an overnight delivery service, Egaas said. The hard drive was then “batched with other damaged or obsolete” devices, according to Manning. Without a tracking number, it was “impossible to specifically identify the hard drive through any Internal Revenue Service equipment inventory system” at that point, Manning said.
* The IRS erased the data from the hard drive through magnetic “degaussing” and then transferred the device to recycling contractor for destruction. Manning said the agency complied with “standard Internal Revenue Procedure disposal procedures for any equipment with data storage capability and to protect against any possible disclosure of [private] taxpayer information.”