In June, as Congress probed the posssibility that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was targeting conservative nonprofits, the agency released a memo describing its search for email records related to the investigation. The memo documented steps taken and emphasized the breadth of the search.
The IRS had "never before undertaken a document production of this size and scope," the agency said. Deploying hundreds of employees, over 100,000 man-hours, and millions of dollars, it continued, the IRS had thoroughly searched for emails to and from Lois Lerner, the key figure in the inquiry. But the search was hampered, because Lerner's work computer had crashed in 2011. "The data stored on her computer's hard drive was determined at the time to be 'unrecoverable' by the IT professionals," the memo explained. "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." The agency also "confirmed that back-up tapes from 2011 no longer exist because they have been recycled."
But IRS emails were also saved onto a recovery system used to guarantee continuity of government in the event of a major disaster. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which oversees IRS audits, confirmed in November that it had recovered as many as 30,000 missing emails from these disaster recovery tapes. Not all of those emails are certain to be new to the investigation, but officials expected that many would be.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen had previously admitted the existence of these disaster backups, but said they would be too difficult and time-intensive to search.