June 21, 2014

The revelation that the Internal Revenue Service lost two years of Lois Lerner's emails has Republicans and their right-wing echo chamber dredging up Watergate comparisons. Peggy Noonan, James Poulos and Paul Mirengoff are just some of the conservatives "paging Rosemary Woods" and gleefully making comparisons to Richard Nixon's 18 minutes of erased tape.

But the GOP's flying monkeys hoping to put the former IRS official at the center of a massive Obama administration plot to target right-wing "social welfare" organizations need not go back in time to 1973 to decry the lost data. After all, in 2008 current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa explained how the Bush White House conveniently lost 22 million emails during the Plamegate investigation that led to the conviction of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

As you'll recall, millions of Bush White House emails conveniently went missing between 2003 and 2005, including those in the critical days during which the administration formulated its response to Ambassador Joe Wilson and his covert CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame. In July 2007, Darrell Issa accused Plame of perjury. Then, in February 2008, Issa turned IT expert and brushed off the email imbroglio as merely a software problem. As Mother Jones reported that March:

During a House Oversight Committee hearing last month on the preservation of White House records, an indignant Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a frequent critic of Chairman Henry Waxman's investigations, did his best to play down the extent of the Bush administration's now well-documented email archiving problems. Defending the White House's decision to switch from the Lotus Notes-based archiving system used by the Clinton administration, Issa compared the software to "using wooden wagon wheels" and Sony Betamax tapes. To observers of the missing emails controversy, Issa's comments seemed little more than an attempt to deflect blame from the White House for replacing a working system for archiving presidential records with an ad hoc substitute. But to IT professionals who use Lotus at their companies, Issa's remarks seemed controversial, if not downright slanderous. Now, according to an executive at IBM, the software's manufacturer, the California congressman has apologized for his characterization of Lotus and offered to correct the congressional record.

Complicating matters, some 50 Bush White House staffers had used email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee to sidestep federal laws regarding the preservation of digital records. But as CNET reported at the time, Congressman Issa wasn't concerned about potential crimes, but only the cost of investigating them:

"Are we simply going on a fishing expedition at $40,000 to $50,000 a month?" Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked National Archives and White House officials at the hearing. "Do any of you know of a single document, because this committee doesn't, that should've been in the archives but in fact was done at the RNC?"

Thanks to a now-settled lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW], Americans learned in 2009 that "the Bush White House, which initially denied that any e-mails had gone missing, announced in January it had located more than 22 million messages that had been mislabeled after a search by computer technicians, according to court records filed by the government on the day after Bush left office."

Alas, that was then and this is now. And now a Democrat is sitting in the Oval Office. And with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testimony before two House committees regarding what even Democrats like Sandy Levin (D-MI) agree constitute "gross mismanagement" by IRS information technology personnel, Chairman Issa is singing a different tune. With his probe having already cost the IRS a quarter of a million man hours and some $10 million, Issa has done a 180 degree turn from his days pretending to be the Bush administration's IT expert. As he wrote to Koskinen this week:

"I will not tolerate your continued obstruction and game-playing."


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