Back in June, the Internal Revenue Service released a memo outlining the particulars of its search for email records related to the congressional investigation into possible IRS targeting of conservative nonprofit groups. It documented all the steps taken, all the costs and resources required. To the extent that the memo had a theme, it was that the IRS had engaged in spectacular, one might even say heroic, effort to find and release the emails.
The IRS, the memo explained, had "never before undertaken a document production of this size and scope." It took hundreds of employees and over a hundred thousand man hours to complete. The cost was well into the millions of dollars. Every effort had been made.
In particular, the agency memo stressed, it had thoroughly searched for emails from Lois Lerner, who during the time under investigation was the head of the IRS tax exempt division and who had become the key figure in the congressional inquiry.
That effort was hampered somewhat by the fact that Lerner had suffered a hard drive crash in mid-2011 wiping records of much of her email from the time period under investigation. Unfortunately, the memo explained, "the data stored on her computer's hard drive was determined at the time to be 'unrecoverable' by the IT professionals…Any of Ms. Lerner's email that was only stored on that computer's hard drive would have been lost when the hard drive crashed and could not be recovered."
Nor were backups of those emails available. The IRS memo explained that the agency took several steps to try to find those emails. In particular, the agency "confirmed that back-up tapes from 2011 no longer exist because they have been recycled."
The memo's message was clear. These emails were simply not available. The IRS had made every effort to recover her emails and any backups. But the backup tapes were gone, just like the original hard drive. They had confirmed it.
Apparently, however, they didn't confirm that it was true of all types of backup tapes. In addition to the agency's regularly recycled IT department backups, the IRS emails were also saved onto a disaster recovery system used to guarantee continuity of government in the event of a disaster.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which oversees IRS audits, confirmed at the end of last week that as many as 30,000 missing emails have been recovered from these disaster recovery tapes during the IG's investigations. Not all of those emails are certain to be new to the investigation, but many of them likely are.
As The Washington Post notes, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen had admitted the existence of these disaster backups, but said they would be too difficult and time-intensive to search. No doubt he's thrilled to hear that many of the missing emails have in fact been found.