WASHINGTON — A federal judge Thursday gave the Internal Revenue Service a month to explain under sworn oath what happened to the missing emails of the woman at the heart of the scandal involving inappropriate targeting of conservative organizations.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the agency must explain in writing exactly what has happened to missing emails, effectively the same question being asked by congressional investigators and the news media.
The ruling, which must be acted on by Aug. 10, was a defeat for the Justice Department, which represented the IRS in the suit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch. That group sued after the IRS refused to provide emails from Lois Lerner, the former head of the Exempt Organizations division.
The Justice Department argued unsuccessfully that the IRS was not obliged to share emails from periods before those in question by Judicial Watch.
The court has appointed a federal magistrate, John Facciola, to seek other ways to get the missing emails to Judicial Watch, given that the IRS said Lerner’s hard drive had failed. Many emails may have been lost, but some are recoverable through the accounts of people to which Lerner had sent messages.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told McClatchy the court should now get answers faster than lawmakers, who complain the IRS has slow-walked their demands.
“I don’t think they can mess with the courts the way they can with a congressional committee,” said Fitton.
Meanwhile, the IRS saga that began in May 2013 saw a new wrinkle this week with the release of an email in which Lerner asks an IRS information-technology specialist whether conversations via text messages should be saved for archive purposes, and is told yes. There is no evidence that the IRS has yet turned over any of Lerner’s texts to congressional investigators or under Freedom of Information Act requests.
“We haven’t gotten any text messages,” said Fitton. “We believe there is a cover-up, it is ongoing and we aim to get to the bottom of it.”