Judicial Watch Sues IRS for Records on Destroyed Hard Drives of Lois Lerner, Other IRS Officials
FEBRUARY 27, 2015
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on February 18, 2015, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seeking “any and all records related to the destruction of damaged hard drives from IRS employee computers from January 1, 2010, to the present.” The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v Internal Revenue Service (No 1:15-cv-00237)). The lawsuit is part of an investigation into the Obama IRS’ claim that the emails of Lois Lerner and other IRS officials, who are being investigated for abuses of Obama’s political opponents, were contained on hard drives that were subsequently damaged and destroyed.
The suit was filed after the IRS responded to a July 18, 2014, FOIA request for records, saying that it did not find “documents specifically responsive” to the Judicial Watch request. In the same letter, dated October 14, 2014, the IRS contradicted this claim, asserting that “records that pertain to the destruction of damaged hard drives are not maintained in a searchable manner.”
On November 18, 2014, Judicial Watch appealed the IRS decision, and requested another search of records and full access to all responsive documents. In its letter of appeal, Judicial Watch argued that it was “extremely unlikely” that no searchable records existed, given the extensive media coverage of the “lost” records. On December 10, the IRS denied the Judicial Watch appeal.
The subsequent February 18, 2015, Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit is related to the obstruction and the misleading explanations of allegedly destroyed computer records in another Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v Internal Revenue Service (No. 1:13-cv-01559)). On July 10, 2014, Judge Emmet Sullivan granted Judicial Watch a request for a status hearing to discuss allegedly missing emails from Lerner and other IRS officials. The hearing resulted in Judge Sullivan issuing two orders (dated July 10 and August 14). The IRS was ordered to detail under oath how some of the emails of former agency official Lois Lerner went missing or became destroyed, where they might be located, and what steps were being taken to retrieve them.
As a result of a court-ordered investigation, it was disclosed to Judicial Watch by Department of Justice attorneys for the IRS that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed-up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe. The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search. In an October 2014 federal court filing, the IRS did not deny that the government-wide back-up system exists, and, moreover, acknowledges to the court that 760 other email “servers” have been discovered but had not been searched. Citing critical comments by citizens on blogs that it was monitoring, the IRS also refuses to disclose the names of the IRS officials who may have information about the IRS scandal and the missing emails. The IRS has only searched a “database” that it knows does not contain the missing records being sought by a federal court, Judicial Watch, and Congress. In fact, Politico reports that in recent testimony “Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said IRS tech employees told them that IRS management never asked for the tapes.”
In its February 18 FOIA lawsuit, Judicial Watch points out that the IRS has already admitted to this federal court that documents about the destruction of hard drives exist:
In a related FOIA lawsuit filed by [Judicial Watch], Defendant [IRS] submitted a sworn declaration on August 11, 2014 that describes, in part, the process for the destruction of damaged hard drives, and specifically the damaged hard drive of former IRS employee Lois Lerner …
The declaration specifically references “standard Internal Revenue Procedure disposal procedures for any equipment with data storage capability.” Defendant later submitted another declaration, which referenced and attached IRS FORM 1933 and IRS Standard Form 120 Rev. Both forms refer to and concern the removal and disposal of equipment with data storage capability in June 2012, including a Blackberry device issued to Lois Lerner …
At a minimum, IRS Form 1933, IRS Standard Form 120 Rev., “the standard Internal Revenue Procedure disposal procedures” and any other records describing or related to the destruction of damaged hard drives during the time frame of Plaintiff’s FOIA request are responsive to Plaintiff’s request in this case.
“The Obama IRS, aided and abetted by the Department of Justice, continues to engage in a pattern of deception, delays, and clear violations of federal law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “In this latest game, the IRS first denies there are records about the destruction of Lois Lerner’s hard drive and then suggests that there may be records, but it would too difficult to look for them. Try that one during your next IRS audit. The IRS scandal isn’t going away, and it is beginning to look like the IRS destroyed evidence about its abuse of Obama’s enemies list of Tea Party groups and conservatives.”