EDITORIAL: The recycled hard-drive coincidence

Computer hard drives fail just in time for Lois Lerner and a protege

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Hanging out with Lois Lerner can be bad for your hard drive’s health. Mrs. Lerner, at the center of an Internal Revenue Service political scandal that sounds ever more jaily, lost her emails in a fortuitous electro-mechanical failure. Now we learn that April J. Sands, a onetime acolyte of Mrs. Lerner at the Federal Election Commission, got into a political scandal of her own, and her hard drive went bust at just the right time, too. Life in Washington is full of coincidences.

By her own telling, Ms. Sands violated the Hatch Act by engaging in partisan political activities while working on the government clock. She was looking at jail time, too, only to be saved by a hard drive “crash” that left prosecutors without enough evidence to pursue serious charges.

Much of the evidence of Ms. Sands’ on-the-clock partisanship is out in the open. She offered the world her brilliance 140 characters at a time. “I just don’t understand how anyone but straight white men can vote Republican,” she tweeted. “What kind of delusional rhetorical does one use?” We’re not sure what that last part means, either, but we do know the messages went out during business hours on weekdays.

She mocked Republicans while taxpayers, including taxpaying Republicans, were paying her a generous $133,000 annual salary. “Dear every single Republican ever,” she tweeted, “When will U learn that Barack Hussein Obama is simply smarter than U?” Everyone in her building knew Ms. Sands as “Obama’s girl.”

The Federal Election Commission’s inspector general wanted to seize the hard drive of Ms. Sands to gather indisputable evidence that she had been using government equipment to raise money on behalf of Democrats, as opposed to, say, using her own cellphone to tweet her twaddle. Investigators were thwarted because the agency had “recycled” the hard drive. The contents were wiped out and the newly virginized hard drive was installed in someone else’s computer.

The inspector general concluded that she didn’t have the evidence she needed to persuade a jury, and the Office of Special Counsel, the government agency that investigates Hatch Act violations, allowed Ms. Sands to walk away with a soft slap on the wrist. She leaves the Federal Election Commission and can’t apply for another federal government job for two years.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has given Lee Goodman, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, until the end of July to explain his “recycling” policy.

Like all mechanical devices, hard drives eventually fail. Prudent folk back up their computers, but it’s a practice some federal agencies seem to have ignored despite their legal duty to maintain official records. The important question Mr. Issa’s panel must answer is whether the IRS and the Federal Election Commission are losing hard drives and emails to cover for renegade employees, or whether it truly was a coincidence that data vanished from the hard drives of the very employees charged with on-the-job partisan political activity.

The administration’s defenders give the benefit of the doubt to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. But is that appropriate? Sitting across the table from an IRS auditor, the taxpayer rarely gets the benefit of a doubt, and never of a coincidence. The appointment of an independent prosecutor is long overdue.

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