It’s Past Time for an IRS Special Prosecutor

Do you believe IRS emails on the tea party nonprofit targeting were lost forever because former director of the IRS Exempt Organization Unit, Lois Lerner’s, computer crashed, along with the computers of seven other IRS employees?

Or do you think this is a federal crime on the level of the “missing” 18 minutes on the Nixon tapes? That this situation goes beyond contempt of Congress and is now obstruction of justice necessitating a special prosecutor, just like the Nixon Administration faced in Leon Jaworski?

House Ways and Means Chairman David Camp, (R-Mich), called for a special prosecutor Friday morning. Congress has won the appointment of a special prosecutor for the Clinton’s Whitewater affair and to probe alleged cocaine use by top Carter Administration aide Hamilton Jordan (he was never charged).

President Barack Obama and top Democrat senators, including Carl Levin, Chuck Schumer and Al Franken, mounted a nonstop, relentless push on the IRS during the president's reelection in an attempt to force the agency to stop conservative groups from getting tax-exempt status, groups who questioned the president’s agenda and problems like big government spending (see How Political Pressure on the IRS Began).

Despite the fact Lerner apologized, she consistently pled the fifth during Congressional hearings and has been held in contempt by a House committee, a charge the Department of Justice has yet to act upon.

Congressional Republicans have demanded these emails for more than a year while the IRS stalled, giving agency to media backers who shouted “there is nothing to this story.” These emails could spell out in detail the pressure by the administration, Democrats and the Justice Department on the IRS to stifle the opposition during a presidential re-election. Now, these emails have suddenly vaporized into thin air.

This goes beyond the weak defense that the IRS targeting was necessary because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates of corrupt money into the electoral system.

This is about shutting down an opposition party to get a president elected. This is about undercutting the integrity of the U.S. tax system, already battered by Congress’s neurotic fiddling with the tax law. This is about demolishing the rule of law and equality this country was founded upon in order to stay in power.

As Nathan Mehrens, president of the government watchdog group Americans for Limited Government has pointed out, despite promising to give over all of the emails, Lerner's hard drive appears to have ‘crashed’ in June 2011, “not long after Rep. Camp first asked the IRS if there was any political targeting going on,” and after Lerner repeatedly denied such actions.

Instead, Lerner blamed low-level staffers in the IRS’s Cincinnati office for the stepped-up scrutiny of conservative groups, workers who heatedly retorted the scrutiny was requested and overseen by IRS headquarters in D.C. The IRS has already been picking and choosing which emails it will show Congress, complaining some of the demands go beyond the presumptive search terms agreed to, Mehrens notes.

Set aside the legitimate criticism that the “computer ate my tax information” would never fly at the IRS for taxpayers. In business, a hard drive crash wouldn’t fly either, because information sits on servers and could be pulled up, Mehrens notes. He’s demanding Congress subpoena all federal agencies who may have corresponded with Lerner and the other IRS officials whose systems ‘crashed’ to retrieve the emails. Mehrens also points out that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified in March that the data did in fact exist on the agency's servers, and not the hard drives.

“The claim that the IRS recycles its backup tapes every six months,” wiping out emails, “is equally ludicrous,” Mehrens says. “The federal government has more strict expectations for publicly held corporations. Sarbanes-Oxley regulations passed more than a decade ago specifically require retention of email data for five years, and make the kind of destruction claimed by the IRS in this instance a crime punishable by 20 years in prison.”

Moreover, the IRS's own manual stipulates email storage is so vital, that it demands permanent backups of data. "IRS offices will not store the official recordkeeping copy of email messages that are federal records ONLY on the electronic mail system," the manual reads, even requiring hard copies "for record-keeping purposes."