Newly-released IRS emails raise additional questions

New documents obtained by Judicial Watch demonstrate that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration sought a key May 2010 internal email ordering the targeting of Tea Party groups. Lois Lerner initially acknowledged the existence of the email, but later denied it. The email may be among those lost when Lerner’s hard drive crashed.

In a January 24, 2013 email from Troy Paterson of the Inspector General’s office to Holly Paz, the former director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements, Paterson wrote:

During a recent briefing, I mentioned that we do not have the original e-mail from May 2010 stating that ‘Tea Party’ applications should be forwarded to a specific group for additional review. After thinking it through, I was wondering about the IRS’s retention or backup policy regarding e-mails. Do you know who I could contact to find out if this e-mail may have been retained?

The May 2010 email’s existence is assumed, presumably based on Paterson’s investigation. Paterson wants to access to it.

A week later, Paz responded: “We have reached out to determine the appropriate contact regarding your question below and have been told that, if this data request is part of e-Discovery, the coordination needs to go through Chief Counsel.”

The matter apparently rested there until late March 2013. At that point, Lerner began frenetically emailing Paz and Nikole Flax, then-Chief of Staff to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, about the missing email:

*March 25, 2013 – 1:35 PM – Lois Lerner to Holly Paz:

Troy said he did reach out to the name you gave him to see if they could find the email, but got no response. Can you give me whatever info I gave you so I can kick some butt wherever it needs kicking!

*March 25, 2013 – 2:38 PM – Lois Lerner to Nikole Flax

He [apparently Troy Paterson] said they contacted the person, but no one ever responded. I will get the contact we gave him from Holly. I personally reached out to them to tell them [the Inspector General] was coming and asked for the right person to help. Once I get the name, perhaps someone can ask them to respond to TIGTA? We shoot ourselves in our own foot!

*March 25, 2013 – 2:57 PM – Lois Lerner to Nikole Flax:

In our response, based on what we were able to find out from staff, we told them that in 2010, someone in Determs [Determinations] sent out an informal email to all Determs folks asking them to forward all “Tea Party” applications to another specialist. [The Inspector General] asked for a copy of the email. We asked everyone in Determs to check their email to find it – no one could find a copy … In any event, apparently, no one responded to Troy’s request.

*March 26, 2013 – 11:07 AM – Lois Lerner to Nikole Flax:

I’ll send the draft – don’t freak out because we had a good talk and I believe there will be another draft to comment on – we had a higher up guy this time. As to information we can’t provide – I’d rather they do the IT route –the investigatory route means they’d go out and question staff, who are already freaked.

Again, Lerner does not deny that the May 2010 email directing the targeting of Tea Party groups exists. Indeed, she seems to acknowledge that it does.

However, on April 2, 2013, Lerner told Paterson, via email, that there was no such email:

So, following our conversation last week, we again searched our records and spoke to EO Rulings & Agreements employees about the May 2010 e-mail regarding the pre-BOLO [Be On the Look Out] criteria, and the issue of who approved the criteria. We now believe that there was not a May 2010 e-mail sent to all Determinations personnel directing them to coordinate these cases with group 7825.

If there was such an email, it may be among those the IRS now claims were irretrievably lost.

But email or not, it now clearer than ever that the Tea Party suppression effort was run out the IRS headquarters in Washington. In none of the above email exchanges did Lerner deny that headquarters officials called for “additional review” of “Tea Party applications.” Nor would she have searched for a headquarters email if the instruction hadn’t come from headquarters.

Moreover, Lerner’s about-face denial in April 2013 of the existence of the May 2010 email should perhaps be viewed in the context of emails she sent the same month cautioning other IRS personnel against using email because “Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails — so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.” The House Oversight Committee today released these emails.

They show that by April 2013, Lerner was concerned about what investigators could learn about targeting through internal IRS email. A month later, she disclosed the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, via a planted question at an ABA conference, but hoped to deflect blame to the Cincinnati office.

Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said today that the “extraordinary series of emails” obtained by his group “raises disturbing questions about smoking gun IRS evidence disappearing and a cover-up that goes back to at least 2013.” So do the Lerner emails released by the House Oversight Committee warning her colleagues to stop communicating by email.