Most of us were raised with the admonition that we shouldn’t write something we didn’t want to read on the front page of the New York Times. In the days of my youth, that meant letters. We didn’t have emails, or faxes, or even readily-available photocopies, so that warning meant don’t write stupid letters. Or leave them around. Or send them to someone else.
We all heard this in one form or another. Some took it seriously. Most didn’t, but never really found themselves in a pickle over something they wrote. A few – including yours truly – wound up in trouble when streams of silly and stupid written utterances made it to the front pages of the New York Times, and many other publications.
I didn’t write volumes of handwritten letters, or missives typed on my trusty Remington typewriter. I wrote emails. Hundreds of thousands of emails. Most were benign, but a few were highly embarrassing and moronic. They were dashed off quickly, or under stress, or just because my brain decided to take the day off. At the end, though, they revealed where I had gone off the rails.
When the excrement hit the wind turbines, they were exhibits in my downfall. In the early days of the lobbying scandal that eventually bore my name, before anyone subpoenaed my emails, no one involved tried to erase them. Even while suspecting that the information contained in those communications could end political careers, destroy employment opportunities and ruin lives, no one crashed the computers on which they were stored.
The people involved in my scandal, including those with access to and control over my email stash, could have had an “accident” with those hard drives, and far fewer would have suffered a decade of agony. But they didn’t. There were no accidents. While some of us resisted use of these emails for political posturing in the United States Senate, no one destroyed anything, even before it would have been a crime to do so.
I don’t relate this narrative to solicit plaudits for any of those involved in my scandal, just because we didn’t destroy the email records of our misdeeds. Honestly, even though we crossed lines that put many of us in prison, destroying the evidence was never a possibility. That’s why, to me, the IRS email scandal is so stunning.
Within the vast empire that our federal government has become, the Internal Revenue Service plays a special, and to many of us, invidious role. They are the repositories of all our secrets. Unlike the NSA, which may or may not be collecting data on each of us, the IRS certainly has details of our lives that must stay private. While their very existence, as well as the underlying law that permits them to legally bleed American taxpayers, remains anathema to most Americans, at a minimum we need to believe that the government employees given charge over this powerful monolith are acting ethically and without malice.
The IRS email scandal shows us that this is not the case, at least as far as the former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, Lois Lerner, was concerned.
Ms. Lerner was, by all accounts, engaged in a political jihad against conservative, free market and even pro-Israel political organizations. When Congressional investigators and the media started to home in on her perfidious behavior, the IRS and Lerner announced that the hard drives likely containing the smoking gun emails proving criminal activity were destroyed. Of course, they asserted that the destruction happened before the investigation commenced and that it was an accident. How convenient.
When I heard that her emails were accidently destroyed, I was convinced that Lerner had made an even bigger mistake than her misuse of government resources to harm organizations that opposed her political agenda.
Usually, when a prospective defendant destroys evidence, the story ends with a prison term. In fact, I was in prison with a few men who were there because they tried to cover-up what wound up being non-criminal acts, including lamely trying to erase their hard drives. Obviously, they didn’t have Ms. Lerner’s capacity to make the incriminating documentation disappear.
It seems the Administration investigators have not found criminal activity in all of this. Is that surprising? Not really, since these guys are really good at covering for each other. Republicans less so. Believe me, I know!
Nothing much is surprising about Ms. Lerner’s disappearing email act, but what is a bit perplexing to me is how this investigative team continues to ignore the fact that her emails are, in fact, still out there. They just need to channel Sherlock Holmes to get them.
Technology 101 dictates that all emails Ms. Lerner did not send to herself were sent to someone else. Presumably the recipients’ hard drives did not suffer from the Lerner prestidigitation. If these third party hard drives did disappear, then it would take a rather dense investigator not to realize there’s a blazing fire behind all this smoke.
In my halcyon days, I had a lot of gumption, but I cannot even imagine the mendacity required of Ms. Lerner to claim that her emails went poof. Republicans need to resist the Obama gang’s efforts to move on and change the subject. They need to press to get Lerner’s emails and be relentless in their pursuit. Otherwise, Ms. Lerner will have established a foundation for “accidental” evidence destruction and obstructionism that will undermine what’s left of our justice system.
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