Lawmakers investigating the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of conservative groups released new emails Wednesday suggesting that top IRS officials communicated through an instant-messaging system that wasn’t routinely archived.
The revelation adds to lawmakers’ concerns about the agency’s handling of documents related to their inquiry into the IRS’s alleged targeting of conservative tea-party groups for burdensome scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status.
Republicans already have criticized the IRS for losing about two years’ worth of emails that could be important to the probe, largely because a computer hard drive belonging to a former top IRS official, Lois Lerner, crashed in mid-2011. Backup tapes storing the messages were routinely reused after six months.
The latest emails suggest that IRS officials used a separate instant-messaging system whose contents also weren’t preserved.
The emails raised new questions for some lawmakers about Ms. Lerner, the now-retired head of the IRS tax-exempt-organizations division who has become a focus of the inquiry.She wrote the emails to an IRS information technology official and the head of her division’s audit unit.
“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 emailsso we need to be cautious about what we say in emails,” Ms. Lerner wrote. “Someone asked if [instant messaging] conversations were also searchableI don’t know, but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?”