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Z_CNHI News Service

June 20, 2014

IRS spins email yarn as Obama slips past another scandal

Editor's Note: If you're not a weekly subscriber to Taylor Armerding's column, you can publish this one if you notify him at t.armerding@verizon.net

I have to give President Obama credit: He’s brazen. If he gets away with one lie, he doesn’t wipe the sweat off his brow and vow never to do it again. He ups the stakes.

If you believed the one about “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period,” try this one: The attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya was just a demonstration about a video! And now: The computer ate Lois Lerner’s emails!

That’s right. Forget everything you’ve heard for a couple of decades from information technology experts that email is forever. That those risqué pictures we posted back when we were adolescents will haunt us when we’re post-30 because once it’s on the World Wide Web, it has the closest thing to life eternal this side of heaven or hell.

Apparently, not if you work for the Internal Revenue Service and you’ve done something that might embarrass or cause legal problems for the president.

By now you may have heard that the IRS announced last Friday - the traditional day to dump bad news - that certain emails to and from Lerner, the now-retired IRS official who ran the unit responsible for tax-exempt organizations, have vanished due to a computer crash.

The “lost” emails were from January 2009 to April 2011, a crucial period in the investigation of the agency’s harassment and intimidation of conservative groups, thereby delaying their applications for nonprofit status. The agency later said it also could not find emails of six other employees involved in the scandal.

No other time period was affected. Nor was there any problem reported with other emails in the agency – just those that might have shed light on whether the corrupt targeting of those groups was simply a case of a few “rogue” agents in an Ohio office, as the administration claimed at the start, or whether there were connections higher up in the administration.

Beyond that, those emails were subpoenaed a year ago, and it is only now that the IRS is claiming they have vanished with no way to recover them.

This takes preposterous to a new level. There are 50,000 IRS employees, but somehow only Lerner’s emails disappeared and her hard drive was then “recycled”?

It is the kind of thing that would cause a liberal media meltdown if it occurred while George W. Bush was president. It is the kind of thing that would have a Sen. Barack Obama calling for investigations, hearings and even impeachment of a Republican president.

In short, it is the kind of thing an administration would do only if it believes it can get away with anything. And so far, it has good reason to believe that. Scandal after scandal is forgotten as quickly as a “Sesame Street” skit.

That’s even though, as multiple computer experts have noted, the crash of a hard drive is irrelevant to the preservation of emails. They exist on servers, and in the email accounts of others who sent and received emails to or from Lerner. Supposedly there are backup systems that preserve IRS communications if a single computer goes down.

It was not all that long ago that four-star U.S. Army General and later CIA Director David Petraeus had an affair exposed because the FBI got access to emails that Petraeus thought were safe in a “private” account.

Yet, we’re supposed to believe that neither the National Security Agency nor FBI nor any computer expert can recover emails from an account belonging to an IRS official who invoked the Fifth Amendment when called to testify before Congress.

As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney put it, with a barely concealed smirk, “Sorry to disappoint you.”

What is most disturbing is that this apparently doesn’t bother a majority of Americans – something the administration has learned it can count on. While evidence builds of corruption and criminal activity in the most powerful, intimidating agency in government, the public is more than willing to be distracted by promises of an increase in the minimum wage and an end the “war on women” by making sure they all get free contraceptives.

I have a theory about why this works so well, which goes back to my days as a local newspaper editor. Parents, teachers, coaches and high school administrators would demand publicity for students who had achieved made the honor roll, sunk the last-second shot, won a debate award, etc. We were happy to do so.

But, when some of those students, who were older than 17 and therefore legal adults, got into any kind of trouble, there were equally vociferous demands that we keep their names out of the paper. If we didn’t, we would be responsible for “ruining their lives.”

They wanted public credit for anything good and no accountability for anything bad.

That adolescent philosophy describes the Obama presidency. He wants the credit for things like killing Osama bin Laden, but when it comes to gun running by the ATF, domestic spying by the NSA, corruption within the Veterans Administration or a failure to secure U.S. embassies from terrorist attacks, well, he’s not really responsible because he just found out about it when we did, and it was caused by just a few “rogue” workers who somehow never get fired.

Don’t blame me, he says. And we don’t. Which means we can expect lots more of this over the next couple of years.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net

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