The IRS’s inspector general confirmed Thursday it is conducting a criminal investigation into how Lois G. Lerner’s emails disappeared, saying it took only two weeks for investigators to find hundreds of tapes the agency’s chief had told Congress were irretrievably destroyed.
Investigators have already scoured 744 backup tapes and gleaned 32,774 unique emails, but just two weeks ago they found an additional 424 tapes that could contain even more Lerner emails, Deputy Inspector General Timothy P. Camus told the House Oversight Committee in a rare late-night hearing meant to look into the status of the investigation.
“There is potential criminal activity,” Mr. Camus said.
He said they have also discovered the hard drives from the IRS’s email servers, but said because the drives are out of synch it’s not clear whether they will be able to recover anything from them.
“To date we have found 32,744 unique emails that were backed up from Lois Lerner’s email box. We are in the process of comparing these emails to what the IRS has already produced to Congress to determine if we did in fact recover any new emails,” Mr. Camus said.
Democrats questioned the independence of Inspector General J. Russell George, who is overseeing the investigation, saying he’s injected politics into his work.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, Virginia Democrat, said Mr. George is refusing to turn documents over to him, prompting a heated reply.
“You’re not entitled to certain documents,” Mr. George said.
“Oh really? We’ll see about that, won’t we,” Mr. Connolly replied, saying that he questioned whether Mr. George could be trusted if he’s refusing to provide documents, yet is in charge of an investigation into whether the IRS stonewalled document requests.
The hearing was the latest chapter in the complex investigation into the IRS’s targeting of tea party groups for special scrutiny.
Several congressional committees are still probing the matter, and both the inspector general and the Justice Department are conducting criminal investigations.
In a 2013 report, the inspector general said the IRS had improperly targeted conservative and tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, asking repeated intrusive questions and delaying their applications well beyond a reasonable time. Some of those groups are still waiting, with their applications now pending for years.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and Oversight Committee chairman, said the ongoing investigations undercut President Obama’s assertion last year that there was no evidence of corruption in the IRS’s targeting.
“I have no idea how the president came to such a definitive conclusion without all the facts,” he said.
The IRS belatedly told Congress it may have lost some of Ms. Lerner’s emails after her computer crashed, and asserted that the backup tapes didn’t exist.
But under questioning from Mr. Chaffetz, Mr. Camus said it took him only two weeks to track down the backup tapes, and when he asked the IRS depository for them, the workers there said they’d never been contacted by the agency itself.
Republicans said that was stunning because IRS Commissioner John Koskinen repeatedly assured Congress the emails were irretrievably lost.
“I think they have misled or lied to the committee,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.
Mr. Camus said they were clued in to the 424 new tapes they just found a couple of weeks ago after realizing the IRS hadn’t given over a key document. They demanded that document, and realized it showed hundreds of other tapes existed.
Democrats said the investigation has dragged on too long and been too expensive, pointing to the IRS’s estimate that it has spent $20 million on staff and equipment to try to comply with the committee’s request.
Ms. Lerner, who oversaw the unit of the IRS that scrutinized nonprofit groups’ applications, is a central figure in the investigations.
After belatedly discovering that some of her emails weren’t being recovered, the IRS did try to reconstitute them by asking other employees to dig through their emails to see if they were the recipients of any messages that involved her. That did produce some of the missing emails.
Democrats said the GOP seemed to be insinuating Ms. Lerner had purposely crashed her hard drive to hide emails – though she herself pushed to try to get messages recovered.
Democrats also questioned why the hearing was happening now, given that Mr. Camus and Mr. George both stressed that their findings are preliminary and could change as they learn more.
“It seems that the best course of action would be to have the inspector general come back when his report is complete,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the panel.
First “OpsAlert@State.gov” email at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2012, reports,“… diplomatic mission is under attack… 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well… Stevens in the compound safe haven”
Email at 6:06 PM September 11, 2012, states terrorist group, “Ansar al Sharia Claims Responsibility.”
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on February 11, 2015, it uncovered documents from the U.S. Department of State revealing that top aides for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, including her then-chief of staff Cheryl Mills, knew from the outset that the Benghazi mission compound was under attack by armed assailants tied to a terrorist group. The documents were produced as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the State Department (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State ((No. 1:14-cv-01511). The documents make no reference to a spontaneous demonstration or Internet video, except in an official statement issued by Hillary Clinton.
Judicial Watch lawsuit focused on Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the Benghazi scandal:
Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to notes, updates, or reports created in response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S, Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This request includes but is not limited to, notes, taken by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or employees of the Office of the Secretary of State during the attack and its immediate aftermath.
The chain of internal emails tracks the events surrounding the terrorist attack in real time beginning immediately upon its inception.
On September 11, 2012, at 4:07 PM, Maria Sand (who was then a Special Assistant to Mrs. Clinton) forwarded an email from the State Department’s Operations Center entitled “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi is Under Attack (SBU) [Sensitive But Unclassified]” to Cheryl Mills (then-Chief of Staff), Jacob Sullivan (then-Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy), Joseph McManus (then-Hillary Clinton’s Executive Assistant), and a list of other Special Assistants in the Secretary’s office:
The Regional Security Officer reports the diplomatic mission is under attack. Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM [Chief of Mission] personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.
On September 11, 2012, 4:38 PM, State Department Foreign Service Officer Lawrence Randolph forwarded Mills, Sullivan and McManus an email from Scott Bultrowicz, who was the former director of the Diplomatic Security Service (ousted following review of the attack), with the subject line, “Attack on Benghazi 09112012”:
DSCC received a phone call from [REDACTED] in Benghazi, Libya initially stating that 15 armed individuals were attacking the compound and trying to gain entrance. The Ambassador is present in Benghazi and currently is barricaded within the compound. There are no injuries at this time and it is unknown what the intent of the attackers is. At approximately 1600 DSCC received word from Benghazi that individuals had entered the compound. At 1614 RSO advised the Libyans had set fire to various buildings in the area, possibly the building that houses the Ambassador [REDACTED] is responding and taking fire.
Nearly seven hours later, at 12:04 am, on September 12, Randolph sends an email with the subject line “FW: Update 3: Benghazi Shelter Location Also Under Attack” to Mills, Sullivan, and McManus that has several updates about the Benghazi attack:
I just called Ops and they said the DS command center is reporting that the compound is under attack again. I am about to reach out to the DS Command Center.
This email also contains a chain of other, earlier email updates:
September 11, 2012 11:57 PM email: “(SBU) DS Command reports the current shelter location for COM personnel in Benghazi is under mortar fire. There are reports of injuries to COM staff.”
September 11, 2012 6:06 PM (Subject: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack (SBU): “(SBU) Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and call for an attack on Embassy Tripoli”
September 11, 2012, 4:54 PM: “Embassy Tripoli reports the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi has stopped and the compound has been cleared. A response team is on site to locate COM personnel.”
The DOS emails reveal the first official confirmation of the death of Ambassador Stevens. On September 12, 2012, 3:22 AM, Senior Watch Officer Andrew Veprek forwarded an email to numerous State Department officials, which was later forwarded to Cheryl Mills and Joseph McManus, with the subject line “Death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi”:
Embassy Tripoli confirms the death of Ambassador John C. (Chris) Stevens in Benghazi. His body has been recovered and is at the airport in Benghazi.
Two hours later, Joseph McManus forwards the news about Ambassador Stevens’ death to officials in the State Department Legislative Affairs office with instructions not to “forward to anyone at this point.”
Despite her three top staff members being informed that a terrorist group had claimed credit for the attack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issued an official statement, also produced to Judicial Watch, claiming the assault may have been in “a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
Cheryl Mills asks that the State Department stop answering press inquiries at 12:11 am on September 12, despite the ongoing questions about “Chris’ whereabouts.” In an email to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, Jacob Kennedy, and Phillipe Reines (then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategic Communications and Senior Communications Advisor), Mills writes:
Can we stop answering emails for the night Toria b/c now the first one [Hillary Clinton’s “inflammatory material posted on the Internet” statement] is hanging out there.
Earlier in the chain of emails, Nuland told Mills, Sullivan, and Patrick Kennedy (Under Secretary of State for Management) that she “ignored” a question about Ambassador Steven’s status and whereabouts from a CBS News Reporter.
Another top State Department official is eager to promote a statement from Rabbi David Saperstein, then-Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a liberal group. The September 2012 statement condemns “the video that apparently spurred these incidents. It was clearly crafted to provoke, offend, and to evoke outrage.” Michael Posner, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, forwarded the statement on September 12, 2012, to Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Jacob Sherman with the note:
This is an excellent statement – our goal should be to get the Conference of Presidents, the ADL etc. to follow suit and use similar language.
(President Obama nominated Rabbi Saperstein to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in July 2014. The U.S. Senate confirmed him in December 2014.)
Also included in the documents are foreign press reports establishing the cause of Ambassador Chris Steven’s death as being from asphyxiation. According to the reports, doctors attending Stevens said he could have been saved had he arrived at the hospital earlier.
The Obama administration has blacked out reactions from White House and top State Department officials to news stories published on September 14, 2012. One of the stories quoted a visitor who criticized the lack of security at the Benghazi Special Mission Compound and another headlined, “America ‘was warned of attack and did nothing.’”
Other emails list well over 20 invited participants in a “SVTC” (secure video teleconference). The invited participants for the September 14, 2012, early morning call include senior White House, CIA, and State Department political appointees.
“These emails leave no doubt that Hillary Clinton’s closest advisers knew the truth about the Benghazi attack from almost the moment it happened,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And it is inescapable that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knowingly lied when she planted the false story about ‘inflammatory material being posted on the Internet.’ The contempt for the public’s right to know is evidenced not only in these documents but also in the fact that we had to file a lawsuit in federal court to obtain them. The Obama gang’s cover-up continues to unravel, despite its unlawful secrecy and continued slow-rolling of information. Congress, if it ever decides to do its job, cannot act soon enough to put Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills, and every other official in these emails under oath.”
Islamic terrorists connected to al Qaeda attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi on the evening of September 11, 2012. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith were both killed. Just a few hours later, a second terrorist strike targeted a different compound about one mile away. Two CIA contractors, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed and 10 others were injured in the second attack.
As promised, President Obama is using executive actions to impose gun control on the nation, targeting the top-selling rifle in the country, the AR-15 style semi-automatic, with a ban on one of the most-used AR bullets by sportsmen and target shooters.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this month revealed that it is proposing to put the ban on 5.56 mm ammo on a fast track, immediately driving up the price of the bullets and prompting retailers, including the huge outdoors company Cabela‘s, to urge sportsmen to urge Congress to stop the president.
Wednesday night, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stepped in with a critical letter to the bureau demanding it explain the surprise and abrupt bullet ban. The letter is shown below.
The National Rifle Association, which is working with Goodlatte to gather co-signers, told Secrets that 30 House members have already co-signed the letter and Goodlatte and the NRA are hoping to get a total of 100 fast.
“The Obama administration was unable to ban America’s most popular sporting rifle through the legislative process, so now it’s trying to ban commonly owned and used ammunition through regulation,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA, the group’s policy and lobby shop. “The NRA and our tens of millions of supporters across the country will fight to stop President Obama’s latest attack on our Second Amendment freedoms.”
At issue is so-called “armor-piercing” ammunition, an exemption for those bullets mostly used for sport by AR-15 owners, and the recent popularity of pistol-style ARs that use the ammo.
The inexpensive 5.56 M885 ammo, commonly called green tips, have been exempt for years, as have higher-caliber ammunition that also easily pierces the type of soft armor worn by police, because it’s mostly used by target shooters, not criminals. The agency proposes to reclassify it as armor-piercing and not exempt.
But now BATFE says that since the bullets can be used in semi-automatic handguns they pose a threat to police and must be banned from production, sale and use. But, as Goodlatte noted, the agency offered no proof. Federal agencies will still be allowed to buy the ammo.
“This round is amongst the most commonly used in the most popular rifle design in America, the AR-15. Millions upon millions of M855 rounds have been sold and used in the U.S., yet ATF has not even alleged – much less offered evidence – that even one such round has ever been fired from a handgun at a police officer,” said Goodlatte’s letter.
Even some police don’t buy the administration’s claim. “Criminals aren’t going to go out and buy a $1,000 AR pistol,” Brent Ball, owner of 417 Guns in Springfield, Mo., and a 17-year veteran police officer told the Springfield News-Leader. “As a police officer I’m not worried about AR pistols because you can see them. It’s the small gun in a guy’s hand you can’t see that kills you.”
Many see the bullet ban as an assault on the AR-15 and Obama’s back-door bid to end production and sale.
“We are concerned,” said Justin Anderson with Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, N.C., one of the nation’s top sellers of AR-15 style rifles. “Frankly, we’re always concerned when the government uses back-door methods to impose quasi-gun control.”
Groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation suggest that under BATFE’s new rule, other calibers like popular deer hunting .308 bullets could be banned because they also are used in AR-15s, some of which can be turned into pistol-style guns. “This will have a detrimental effect on hunting nationwide,” said the group.
The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to regulate Internet service like a public utility, expanding the U.S. government’s oversight of a once lightly regulated business at the center of the country’s commercial and social activity.
The 3-2 vote, along party lines, starts the clock ticking on an expected legal challenge from the telecom and cable industries.
The move marks a turn in the government’s approach to the Internet—from a hands off policy dating back two decades to encourage the Web’s growth to a more interventionist posture as commercial issues have multiplied.
It was spurred on by companies – such as Netflix Inc. – worried that they could face more onerous terms for carrying their traffic and by President Barack Obama, who made an unusual public plea for the rules late last year. The new regulations were strongly opposed by carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., and they even drew warnings from Google Inc., which told the White House privately it was making a mistake.
The rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking Web traffic or charging websites for priority service. They also extend the FCC’s reach into the middle of the Internet by saying the commission will review so-called interconnection deals between companies such as Netflix and Comcast Corp. on a case-by-case basis to make sure they are reasonable.
Despite all the wrestling over legal principle, little is likely to change for consumers in the near term. Carriers very rarely block any traffic, and experiments like letting Web companies pay for toll-free mobile service haven’t gone very far. But advocates said the rules will preserve the open environment that has helped Web companies blossom.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who revealed details of the new rules earlier this month, received a standing ovation when he entered the commission room ahead of the vote.
Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, who attended the meeting, said from the sidelines that broadband providers need to be more closely regulated.
“Broadband is essential, like water,” Mr. Wozniak said.
Verizon, in a statement typed on a Remington typewriter and datelined Feb. 26, 1934, harking back to the Communications Act passed that year, criticized the rules as antiquated and likely to create uncertainty that will hurt innovation. The new rules involve reclassifying broadband service as a telecom service regulated by Title II of the Act, which governs the more highly regulated phone business.
Mr. Wheeler reiterated Thursday that the commission is only doing so to establish regulatory authority to enforce net neutrality and it won’t impose more onerous regulations such as price controls.
The full FCC order will be available on the commission’s website within the next few weeks and will take effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register.
Opponents plan to fight the rules in the Congress and in the courts.
The decision, which has already faced Republican criticism on Capitol Hill, will come under the microscope next month, when the five FCC commissioners are slated to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Lawmakers in both parties have long said an update of telecommunications law is needed, and that clarity from Congress could help the FCC and the courts sort out the legal questions surrounding the issue. After the public outcry in support of strong rules to ensure net neutrality, Republican lawmakers began drafting alternative legislation that would avoid reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.
Backers – led by Senate Commerce Committee John Thune (R., S.D.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.) – hoped to win bipartisan support to ensure net neutrality, but Democrats had shown less interest in the effort. On Thursday, however, Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) said he would be willing to continue talks on “true bipartisan legislation.”
A rewrite of telecom law is a huge lift in Congress, especially at a time of such polarization on Capitol Hill. Still, Mr. Thune said Wednesday he thinks the FCC’s action and likely lawsuits could prod lawmakers to act. The last rewrite was in 1996.
The FCC has a poor record with net neutrality in the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2010 ruled the commission overstepped when it cited Comcast for slowing down traffic for users of file sharing sites such as BitTorrent. Last year, the same court ruled in favor of Verizon and overturned the FCC’s effort to draft Open Internet rules.
In that ruling, the court said the FCC was trying to regulate Internet providers like traditional “common carrier” telecommunications services, such as landline phone systems, even though the commission had explicitly decided not to classify broadband as a telecommunications service. The reclassification of Internet service under Title II is an effort to patch that hole.
Unlike the previously rejected rules, the rules fully apply to wireless service and give the FCC new powers to oversee deals in the middle of the Internet, where companies such as Netflix and intermediaries such as Cogent Communications Holdings Inc. link up with the networks owned by Verizon, Comcast and others.
Network owners are pushing harder to get paid when hooking up websites such as Netflix that bring waves of traffic. Netflix complained publicly last year that broadband companies were slowing delivery of its video service to gain leverage in pricing discussions. The dispute helped nudge the net neutrality debate into the mainstream.
The FCC’s new rules let the agency police those agreements based on whether it finds them just and reasonable. It isn’t clear how the agreements would be evaluated, and critics claim the commission is on shakier legal ground overseeing those relationships.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper completely contradicts John Kerry less than 24 hours after his testimony before Congress.
On Wednesday Obama Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress:
Our citizens, our world today is actually, despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally – less deaths, less violent deaths today than through the last century.
On Thursday Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress:
“When the final accounting is done. 2014 will be the most lethal year in global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled. About half of all attacks including fatalities in 2014 occurred in just three countries, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Do these people have any idea what they’re doing?