The IRS email scandal just took a turn for the worse

The most recently revealed Internal Revenue Service email fail features some painful irony.


Fran Berkman


Published Jul 10, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 11:47 pm CDT

The most recently revealed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) email fail features some painful irony. It involves Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who is now the focus of a congressional investigation into a political targeting scandal revealed last year. Here’s how it went down:

Before the targeting scandal became public, Lerner apparently warned her IRS colleagues to be careful what they say in emails, because those emails might wind up with Congress.

We know this because Lerner told Maria Hooke, an IT employee for the IRS. In an email. That Congress obtained. 

The House Oversight Committee, one of the groups leading the investigation into the IRS controversy, released the email exchange on Wednesday. 

“I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails,” Lerner wrote to Hooke, “so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.”

The reason Lerner was writing to Hooke was to inquire about the default privacy settings on an instant messaging software IRS employees used. She was apparently concerned that archived chat logs might also find their way to congressional investigators.

When Hooke informed her that the IMs “are not set to automatically save as the standard,” Lerner replied with a one-word email: “Perfect.”

Lerner has been the central figure in the IRS controversy, in which the agency targeted certain political groups for increased scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. In particular, the IRS is said to have singled out conservative groups, such as those with “Tea Party” in their names. 

The email exchange between Lerner and Hooke happened in April 2013. Specifically, it occurred just 12 days after the IRS Inspector General shared with the IRS a draft of its investigation into the targeting scandal, according to an Oversight Committee statement.

Republicans in Congress, such as Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), are trying to tie the scandal to the highest levels of the executive branch.

IRS emails became a sort of controversy within a controversy last month, when the IRS told Congress it had “lost” years worth of emails from Lerner that might have been key to their investigation. The IRS said the emails fell victim to a harddrive crash, and they weren’t backed up anywhere. Also, the hard drive had been “recycled,” so any data-recovery efforts would be impossible.

The email exchange between Lerner and Hooke is copied below.  

Lois Lerner IRS email

Photo via Committee on Oversight & Government Reform (PD)

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*First Published: Jul 10, 2014, 2:15 pm CDT