A federal judge on Thursday ordered the IRS to explain, under oath, how it lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea-party controversy.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave the tax agency a month to submit the explanation in writing. Sullivan said he is also appointing a federal magistrate to see whether the lost emails can be obtained from other sources.
Sullivan issued the order as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group. He said the IRS declaration must be signed, under oath, by the appropriate IRS official.
“I’m going to hold tight to that Aug. 10 declaration,” Sullivan said.
The IRS says it lost the emails in 2011 when Lois Lerner’s computer crashed. At the time, Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She has since retired.
Lerner, who refused to answer questions at two House committee hearings, has become a central figure in several congressional investigations over the handling of tea-party applications. At both hearings, Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has testified on the lost emails before Congress at least three times. Each time he was under oath.
Koskinen said he first learned there was a problem with Lerner’s computer in February but didn’t learn that emails were lost until April. The IRS notified Congress on June 13.