(CNN) – Republican lawmakers are slamming the Internal Revenue Service, with one calling for an immediate investigation, after the agency notified Congress Friday that it was unable to recover former official Lois Lerner’s e-mails from January 2009 to April 2011 because of a computer crash.
The agency made the disclosure in a letter sent to Congressional investigators Friday afternoon, according a statement from Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Louisiana.
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Lerner, former director of the IRS’ exempt organizations division, is a central figure in the IRS controversy involving the agency’s targeting of tea party and other interest-specific groups. Her e-mails were subpoenaed by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, in an attempt to learn whether other outside agencies were potentially involved in the flagging of applications from those groups.
In a statement, the IRS said that Lerner tried to recover her e-mails after her hard drive broke down but was unable to do so. The agency said it then worked backward to recover the missing e-mails from recipients of the messages.
"At the time, Ms. Lerner asked IRS IT professionals to restore her hard drive, but they were unable to do so,” the IRS said. “Nonetheless, the IRS has or will produce 24,000 Lerner e-mails from this 2009-2011 time period, largely from the files of the other 82 individuals. The IRS's production to Congress of the 67,000 Lerner e-mails is nearly complete."
On Friday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp issued a statement questioning the credibility of the IRS’ compliance with the congressional investigation for not having raised the issue sooner. He also called for an immediate investigation.
“The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries,” Camp said. “There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.
But the IRS said it advised the Senate Finance Committee three months ago that it had completed the production of materials related to the committee’s investigation and that the missing Lerner e-mails are part of an additional search.
Issa went a step further, saying that the crash was “convenient” for the Obama administration, and that they are playing games. Echoing Camp’s comments on credibility, Issa said that the supposed loss of Lerner’s documents damages the credibility of claims that the IRS is complying with congressional requests to seek the truth.
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that while he is concerned about the missing documents, he is also “greatly troubled” by the administration’s failure to notify his committee of the computer crash when they first became aware of it. This new information, he says, “will without question delay our investigation.”
Hatch says he is looking forward to a “forthright discussion” with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on the matter next week.
The IRS insists that it has made unprecedented efforts to produce the documents needed to help complete the investigations. According to a statement, their efforts to respond to Congress’ requests have involved more than 250 IRS employees working more than 120,000 hours at a direct cost of nearly $10 million. The agency says it has thus far delivered more than 750,000 pages of documents to Congress.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was less critical, but said his committee is working to determine if any documents were withheld. “We’re working to finalize the Committee’s bipartisan investigation of the IRS’s review and processing of applications for tax exempt status,” Wyden said in a statement. “To date, our effort has included a review of hundreds of thousands of related pages of documents and over 30 interviews. We are now working with the IRS to determine if any relevant documents were not provided and will continue to work toward a release of our bipartisan report.”