An IRS official told a federal court last week that the Blackberry used by former IRS official Lois Lerner was "wiped clean" in 2012, soon after Congress starting probing what would later become known as the IRS targeting scandal.
But according to the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, an IRS lawyer also said last week that the government has a backup system that should retain the emails of Lerner and other IRS workers.
Congress is still looking for emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner, but it's still not clear whether the IRS properly backed up those communications. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
If that's the case, it may not matter what happened to Lerner's Blackberry at all, if the backup system can be accessed.
"We were told that there was a backup system in case of catastrophe," Judicial Watch Spokeswoman Jill Farrell told TheBlaze. "That was the first we heard of such of a thing, and understood from the DOJ that this system was government wide, that Lerner's emails may be accessible, and that the Obama administration didn't want to even look for them in our case."
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said on Monday that the existence of a backup system should mean Lerner's emails are recoverable. "There's no such thing as Lois Lerner's missing emails," he said Monday.
Judicial Watch is pursuing its own inquiry into the missing emails, and was told this information by an IRS lawyer last week. Lerner's emails are seen by House Republicans as a possible source of evidence that she directed or was involved in efforts to delay tax-exempt status rulings for conservative groups.
Despite news of a possible backup system, it's still unclear whether the IRS has the ability to find Lerner's emails, and whether it wants to, especially in light of the news that Lerner's Blackberry was wiped clean.
That development was learned through an affidavit from Thomas Kane, IRS deputy associate chief counsel for Procedure and Administration, which was produced as part of the group's court proceeding against the IRS. In that affidavit, Kane said Lerner's Blackberry was "removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012."
Regardless of whether Lerner's emails are recoverable, Republicans are starting to argue that this news could be evidence that the IRS was trying to hide information from Congress, since Congress had already met with Lerner by June 2012 about the targeting scandal.
"We had already talked to her," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said this week. "Our personal staff and oversight committee staff had sat down with Ms. Lerner and confronted her about information we were getting from conservative groups in the state of Ohio and from around the country."
And there are other complications. Earlier this week, an Obama administration official seemed to downplay the idea that a backup system is still holding Lerner's emails. The official told Foxnews that there is "no new backup system" for retaining emails, and that IRS lawyers were only referring to processes that have already been outlined to Congress.
And even Judicial Watch admits it's not clear what happens next.
"We look forward to the [Department of Justice] explaining to the court its latest version of the Lerner email story and describing what backup computer systems the government has for the IRS and other federal agencies in case of a "catastrophe,' " Farrell said.