June 19, 2014 6:37 AM EDT

If a friendly auditor from the Internal Revenue Service comes calling and you can’t get your hands on all those receipts you’re supposed to keep for seven years, try this: tell them you saved electronic copies on your computer’s hard drive, but it crashed.

That, after all, is the excuse the IRS gave this month to congressional investigators who suspect the agency of politically motivated scrutiny of right-wing nonprofits. A year ago, House Republicans asked the IRS for emails from early 2009 to mid-2013 by the head of its office of exempt organizations, Lois Lerner. After producing tens of thousands of emails over the past year, the IRS admitted on June 13 that an unknown number were unrecoverable because Lerner’s hard drive crashed in June 2011, supposedly vaporizing messages she had sent to people outside the IRS from January 2009 to April 2011. The admission renewed GOP accusations of foul play just as the Tea Party was sifting through mixed results from 2014 primary campaigns and left many wondering where the scandal, which had been fading for weeks, will go next.


The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch of Utah, called the IRS admission an “outrageous impediment to our investigation,” while the House GOP demanded that the White House, the Treasury and others scour their records for any potential emails from Lerner that might have been saved on their servers.


Obama officials called talk of foul play “indicative of the kinds of conspiracy that are propagated around this story” and said the top investigator on the case had found “there was no indication” that the slowdown in processing Tea Party nonprofit applications “was politically motivated.”


The IRS said it had spent more than $10 million on GOP-ordered searches and had recovered 24,000 internal Lerner emails from the period of the crashed hard drive. It also said that since the scandal, it had changed its policy of saving digital backup tapes of employee emails for only six months.



Meet the affable House Republican whip from California, who is ready to follow Eric Cantor as majority leader


After winning the lottery at 19, he invested the $5,000 haul in a deli, Kevin O’s. The profits helped pay for business school.


As GOP leader of the California state assembly, McCarthy worked closely with then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two remain tight.


Kevin Spacey shadowed him to prepare for the role of Francis Underwood in the Netflix hit House of Cards. Aides make a point of noting that the murderous Underwood is not based on their boss, though Spacey did use a McCarthy line on the show.

This appears in the June 30, 2014 issue of TIME.

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