Search for Lois Lerner's lost emails leads to NSA

Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner exercises her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the IRS targeting investigation before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building March 5, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The House Armed Services Committee has come up with a creative approach to look for emails from embattled former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner that were apparently lost in a computer crash: they're asking the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Department.

The panel approved a resolution Wednesday authored by Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, that directs the Secretary of Defense to send the House of Representatives "copies of any electronic communication in the possession of the Secretary, the Director of the National Security Agency, or any office that reports to the Secretary or the Director that was transmitted to or from any electronic mail account(s) used by former Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois Lerner at any time between January 1, 2009, and April 30, 2011."

The IRS said last month that it could not locate many emails sent and received by Lerner - the official at the heart of the controversy over the agency's targeting of conservative groups - because her computer crashed in 2011. They were ultimately able to generate 24,000 emails from 2009 to 2011 by finding message where she had copied other employees.

The resolution hopes that perhaps the NSA - which apparently collected as many as 56,000 emails and other communications from Americans who had no connection to terrorism prior to 2013 - might have picked up some of the lost communications.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was asked in a hearing last month whether his agency's emails were exempt from monitoring by the FBI and NSA. He said he was unaware of any NSA collection, but said the emails could still be in their possession if it had taken place.

Although Democrats have been critical of the GOP's extensive investigation of the IRS controversy, they are not standing in the way of the new approach. The top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, said that he thought it was "highly unlikely" they would find any emails but did not object.

"I hope we can dispose of this quickly and move on," he said.

Stockman, the author of the resolution, is also pushing the House to vote to arrest Lerner and put in her jail after she was held in contempt of Congress in May for failing to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at the time that it was up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the House, to pursue any further punishment.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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