Sources close to the matter at the Senate Finance Committee say the committee is planning to meet in a private, closed session in the next two weeks to finally wrap up its bipartisan report on its two-year probe into the IRS's targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups before the presidential and mid-term elections.
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Both the top Republican and Democrat on the panel, chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have said that they want to release the report before the Senate goes on its recess on August 7, but have yet to set a date for the closed meeting. The committee needs to keep the session closed in order to protect taxpayer information, sources tell FOX Business Network.
The report will likely concur with what the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration [TIGTA] has said, that in March 2014, IRS workers improperly destroyed 422 backup tapes containing anywhere from 1,300 to 24,000 emails to and from former IRS official Lois Lerner. Those findings “will definitely” be in it, an official says. “We haven’t set the date yet, we're looking to get it done by August recess,” an official says, reiterating that this is a bipartisan report, the panel has been intent on issuing “an accurate report” that will be the final say on the matter. To date, committee investigators have interviewed more than 30 current and former IRS and Treasury employees and have reviewed nearly 1.5 million pages of documents.
The IRS’s improper erasure occurred a month after agency officials were notified that Lerner’s emails had gone missing. Lerner was the head of the IRS unit overseeing tax-exempt nonprofits during the time the groups were targeted. Whether incompetence or willful cover up is to blame is key in calling IRS workers to account, since at issue is alleged obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has said that the destruction occurred “just 30 days after President Obama, on the eve of the Super Bowl, told a TV interviewer that there is ‘not a smidgen of corruption’ at the IRS.”
IRS workers destroyed the tapes about nine months after the IRS had received a congressional order to protect such evidence.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration [TIGTA] J. Russell George, has determined that the IRS did improperly target conservative and tea party groups for extra scrutiny. Specifically, the inspector general has testified: "As Ms. Lerner’s hard drive could not be recovered and the 422 tapes most likely to have contained Ms. Lerner’s emails from 2010 and 2011 were erased in March 2014, we were unable to recover all of the missing emails."
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The watchdog added: “Comparing the IRS email transaction logs to the IRS production to the Congress revealed there could be as many as 23,000 to 24,000 additional missing emails. As a result of the investigative process, TIGTA was successful in recovering over 1,000 emails that the IRS did not produce to the Congress, DOJ, or TIGTA.”
In addition, the IRS inspector general had said: “The investigation also revealed that prior to our investigation and our efforts to recover Ms. Lerner’s missing emails, the IRS did not search for, review or examine the two separate sources of backup tapes, the server hard drives, or the loaner laptops that ultimately produced new, previously undisclosed emails.”
Agency officials also apparently did not search for or probe Lerner’s BlackBerry. At issue, too, is the fact that instant messages such as text messages used by Lerner and other IRS workers apparently were not backed up on government servers.
IRS workers erased the backup tapes a month after IRS officials were notified that thousands of Lerner’s emails were missing due to a hard drive crash. Lerner's hard drive allegedly "crashed" in June 2011.
Lerner has pled the Fifth and has refused to testify in front of Congress about her role in the targeting scandal. The IRS official retired in September 2013, and qualifies for an estimated $102,600 pension.
The inspector general’s report does not provide evidence that there was no intentional destruction or any White House involvement in the lost emails. Instead, the IRS inspector general has testified that he “did not uncover evidence that the erasure was done in furtherance of an effort to destroy evidence or conceal information from Congress and/or law enforcement.”
Furthermore, the IRS inspector general has said it is possible agency workers did not know about a May 22, 2013 agency directive from the IRS chief technology officer to halt the destruction of items such as email backup tapes due to ongoing investigations. IRS workers have to physically pick up the tapes and place them on a machine to erase the data, the inspector general’s office has said. The inspector general’s team reportedly attempted to find building entry logs for the Saturday in June 2011 when then-IRS official Lerner discovered that her hard drive had crashed, however, those logs had been erased as well.