Lois Lerner Used Private Email, House Oversight Says

Committee investigating whether IRS official violated federal record law

Lois Lerner
Lois Lerner / AP

The Internal Revenue Service official under fire for her role in targeting conservative nonprofit groups used a private email address to conduct official business, congressional investigators say.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter Tuesday to Lois Lerner , the former director of the IRS’s exempt organizations unit, seeking all work-related emails from her personal account.

"Through the course of the investigation, we have learned that you sent documents related to your official duties from your official IRS e-mail account to an msn.com e-mail account labeled ‘Lois Home,’" Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) wrote. "This raises some serious questions concerning your use of a non-official e-mail account to conduct official business."

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If federal employees use private email for work, they are required to send copies to their official email accounts for record keeping purposes. Lerner would be in violation of federal record law if she failed to do so.

"The use of non-official e-mail accounts to conduct official business implicates federal records requirements," Issa and Jordan said. "It also creates difficulties in fulfilling the IRS’s obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and other litigation requests. Your use of non-official e-mail account also frustrates congressional oversight obligations."

Issa and Jordan requested Lerner produce the emails by Aug. 27.

Lerner’s role in the IRS targeting of conservative groups led her to be placed on administrative leave in late May after she refused to resign. When she was called before the Oversight Committee earlier this year, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify.

Lerner is the latest of several Obama administration officials who has come under investigation for questionable email practices.

Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson used an alias email account under the name "Richard Windsor" to conduct official business. Another EPA regional administrator resigned shortly after Oversight Committee began investigating him for using a private email address.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also used a secret email address.

Agency representative say the secret email addresses are necessary because of the large volume of messages that flood high-level officials’ public inboxes, but transparency advocates worry the addresses are being used to skirt the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who first discovered Jackson’s secret email address, said Lerner is just one of many Obama officials to skirt transparency laws.

"I have demonstrated widespread use by Obama officials of non-official email accounts to conduct official business, by people trained to know that this is improper," Horner said. "They also know that conducting public business on private resources doesn't make it any less public; that is, breaking the rules doesn't somehow exempt the correspondence from federal record-keeping and disclosure laws. It only makes it unlikely that they will ever be captured under those laws."

"FOIA works on an honor system, and those systems only work with people of honor," Horner said. "So you see the problem."

The IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.