by RACHAEL BADE
WASHINGTON D.C. – Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, making it likely the lost emails of the lightening rod in the tea party targeting controversy will never be found, according to multiple sources.
“We’ve been informed that the hard drive has been thrown away,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a brief hallway interview.
Two additional sources told POLITICO the same late Wednesday, citing IRS officials.
It may just be standard government procedure, but the revelation is significant because some lawmakers and observers thought there was a way that tech experts could revive Lerner’s emails after they were washed away in a computer crash in the summer of 2011.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), for example, subpoenaed her damaged hard drive earlier this week, when he asked for “all hard drives, external drives, thumb drives and computers” and “all electronic communication devices the IRS issued to Lois G. Lerner.”
“IT experts have weighed in and said yes — we can get those” emails, said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) earlier Wednesday.
The latest news suggests such professionals may never get the chance to try again — and the IRS has even said its criminal investigators who specialize in rebuilding hard drives to recover hidden information from criminals were unable to restore the data back in 2011.
But this is only likely to further enrage Republicans, who are fuming over the matter and suspect Washington officials drove the selective scrutiny.
The IRS told congressional investigators on Friday that the emails of Lerner, the former head of the tax exempt division that was found to have singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny, were lost from 2009 to 2011 in a computer hard drive crash in early summer 2011.
IRS chief John Koskinen will face angry Republicans at a hearing on Friday.
The time frame is significant because the tea party targeting began in spring of 2010, and Republicans think if there was a smoking gun connecting the Obama administration to the IRS treatment of conservative groups, it could be found during that period.
“We believe the standard IRS protocol was followed in 2011 for disposing of the broken hard drive. A bad hard drive, like other broken Information Technology equipment, is sent to a recycler as part of our regular process,” an IRS spokesman said in response to a query from POLITICO.
On Wednesday, the White House retorted that for the time frame in which Lerner’s emails are missing, there are no direct communications between 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and the now-retired Lerner.
Earlier this week, Ways and Means Republicans said as many as six IRS employees involved in the scandal also lost email in computer crashes, including the former chief of staff for the acting IRS commissioner.
That’s because before May 2013, the IRS backed up emails only for six months on a tape, then recycled the tapes, so they essentially threw out the data. Many agencies do the same, transparency experts say.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which wrote the May 2013 report that uncovered the practice of IRS workers singling out some applicants for tax breaks with the words “tea party” for added scrutiny, is currently in possession of Lerner’s laptop and her new hard drive, according to an IRS letter.
The IRS has been able to retrieve about 24,000 of Lerner’s emails sent to other IRS employees by recovering them from other agents who received, sent or were copied on the emails.
However, Koskinen has acknowledged that the IRS wouldn’t be able to find emails Lerner sent outside the agency.
Brian Faler contributed to this report.