IRS email probe awaits new software

IG finds "potential criminal activity," but the investigation is on hold pending settlement of a dispute with a vendor over software licensing rights.


The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is waiting on software it ordered in December to test whether newly revealed emails are duplicates or whether material has been erased, the latest wrinkle in the continuing saga of former IRS executive Lois Lerner's missing messages.

At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing the evening of Feb. 26, Timothy Camus, deputy IG for investigations at TIGTA, said 424 additional back-up tapes containing IRS emails have come to light.

"To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner's email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails," Camus said.

Lerner, the former director of the IRS's Exempt Organizations Unit, allegedly directed tax officials to give extra scrutiny to requests by conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The IRS had previously said it could not produce roughly two years of Lerner's email record, claiming they were lost in a 2011 computer crash.

Camus, who testified with Inspector General J. Russell George, said TIGTA is investigating whether documents were deliberately withheld. The contents of the emails were not disclosed during the hearing, but Camus said there is "potential criminal activity."

Less than two weeks ago, TIGTA officials learned that there may have been back-up tapes older than the original 744 tapes obtained in July 2014, Camus said. But they can't do forensic work on them without the new software.

Camus said that once they get the software, it shouldn't take more than a week to determine whether the newly discovered emails are duplicates or whether any were deleted.

The hold-up on the software is a result of a dispute with the vendor over licensing rights, Camus said.

"Rights to come in and view how the software is being used, which means they could come in and look at the material we are matching, and that's not acceptable to the federal government," Camus said. "Those types of negotiations are going on right now with our procurement officers and the vendor."

While they wait, the latest revelations added fuel to concerns voiced by a number of lawmakers that the IRS has been lying about what tapes and emails were destroyed.

"They went to get the tapes, and it took them 15 days," said committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "We've had testimony time and time again that 'We can't find them, they're destroyed, they've been duped over."