Judicial Watch Sues the IRS to Preserve Its Emails
We have enough history with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to be distrustful of anything it says about transparency.
Most recently we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain records relating to the agency’s “preservation and/or retention” of the email records of officials who have left the agency since January 2010 (Judicial Watch v. Internal Revenue Service (No.1:17-cv-00596)). We sued as part of our continuing efforts to gain information about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and citizens during the Obama administration.
We filed the complaint after the IRS failed to respond to a November 15, 2016, FOIA request seeking:
- All records concerning the preservation and/or retention of email records generated by IRS officials and employees upon their departure from the IRS; and
- All records related to any changes, updates, or modifications to IRS policies and procedures for the retention of email records generated by IRS officials and employees.
We’re requesting records from January 1, 2010, to the present.
The IRS has long since sacrificed any credibility it might have had, especially given its dishonesty about Lois Lerner’s emails. Obama and his allies used the IRS to suppress his political opposition in an apparent effort to help guarantee his re-election. Now we need to make certain that the IRS is not continuing to try to cover its tracks by destroying records.
You will recall that Judicial Watch initially forced the IRS to claim that emails belonging to Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit, were supposedly missing. Then later it conceded to the court that the emails were on IRS back-up systems. Lerner was one of the top officials responsible for the IRS’ targeting of President Obama’s political opponents. In a case related to the current complaint, Judicial Watch learned first-hand to question the IRS’ record keeping:
- In June 2014, the IRS claimed to have “lost” responsive emails belonging to Lerner and other IRS officials.
- In July 2014,Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered the IRS to submit to the court a written declaration under oath about what happened to Lerner’s “lost” emails. The sworn declarations proved to be less than forthcoming.
- In August 2014, Department of Justice attorneys for the IRS finally admitted to Judicial Watch that Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe. The IRS’ attorneys also disclosed that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) was looking at several of these backup tapes.
- In November 2014, the IRS told the court it had failed to search any of the IRS standard computer systems for the “missing” emails of Lerner and other IRS officials.
- On February 26, 2015, TIGTA officials testifiedto the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it had received 744 backup tapes containing emails sent and received by Lerner. This testimony showed that the IRS had falsely represented to both Congress, Judge Sullivan, and Judicial Watch that Lerner’s emails were irretrievably lost. The testimony also revealed that IRS officials responsible for responding to the document requests never asked for the backup tapes and that 424 backup tapes containing Lerner’s emails had been destroyed during the pendency of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit and Congressional investigations.
- In June 2015, Judicial Watch forced the IRS to admitin a court filing that it was in possession of 6,400 “newly discovered” Lerner emails. Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the IRS to provide answers on the status of the Lerner emails the IRS had previously declared lost. Judicial Watch raised questions about the IRS’ handling of the missing emails issue in a court filing, demanding answers about Lerner’s emails that had been recovered from the backup tapes.
- In July 2015, U.S District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan threatened to hold John Koskinen, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Justice Department attorneys in contemptof court after the IRS failed to produce status reports and recovered Lerner emails, as he had ordered on July 1, 2015.
Obama IRS Commissioner Koskinen was nearly impeached in September 2016 for misleading Congress on Lerner’s emails. I do not understand why the Trump administration has allowed him to stay in place given his continual track record.