Investigators have recovered 32,000 emails to and from former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner in backup tapes, authorities said Thursday night. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the IRS watchdog investigating the disappearance of Lerner's emails, reportedly said that investigators are now looking into possible criminal activity. 

In 2013, it was revealed that the IRS had singled out the Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. Lerner, who used to head the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status, emerged as a central figure in the controversy.

Last June, the IRS told Congress that an unknown number of emails had been lost when Lerner’s computer crashed in 2011. At the time, it claimed that the emails could not be retrieved, but at a congressional hearing on Thursday, investigators revealed that they had recovered thousands of emails in backup tapes from the agency’s email system.

“It looks like we’ve been lied to, or at least misled," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said, at a congressional hearing on Thursday evening, according to Fox News.

Timothy Camus, the treasury deputy inspector general for tax administration, told the House Oversight Committee that although several emails had been recovered, they did not yet know how many of them were new. The contents of the emails were not revealed during the hearing.

"There is potential criminal activity," Camus said, according to CNN, but did not mention any other detail regarding the possible criminal act. He also added that two weeks ago, authorities had discovered a cache of over 400 additional backup tapes that IRS had not disclosed previously.

Meanwhile, the IRS reportedly said that 78,000 of Lerner's emails had already been produced. The IRS "has been and remains committed to cooperating fully with the congressional oversight investigations. The IRS continues to work diligently with Congress as well as support the review by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration,” the agency reportedly said, in a statement.