Now, 13 months after that report was published, there still has been no thorough recounting of why the agency took those steps and what role, if any, the White House played. Instead, House GOP investigators, who seem determined to portray the White House as the IRS’ puppet master regardless of what the evidence reveals, have dribbled out selective disclosures, and the Senate has been silent. Yet it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for the agency when it waited four months before telling Congress that several computer hard drives had crashed in mid-2011, wiping out emails stored by Lois Lerner and six other key employees.
Why an agency that relies on record-keeping would keep such limited records is a mystery, as is how such an important trail of evidence disappeared before the scandal hit. But neither Congress nor the administration has given much reason to be trusted to unravel them. Instead, the situation cries out for the appointment of someone with a track record of sorting through complex problems to figure out what happened and who’s responsible. Although it’s tempting to demand a special prosecutor, as some Republicans have done, such efforts in the past have come at great expense and with wildly mixed results. A prosecutor also may be required by ethics rules to keep some findings secret, which is the opposite of the transparency needed here. Better to call on a trusted and energetic figure who can conduct a vigorous inquiry, with no questions about his or her motives.