The top Republicans on three House committees are ratcheting up pressure on the Biden administration after private tax information about thousands of the country’s wealthiest people was leaked to the media.
Reps. James Comer from Kentucky of the Oversight Committee; Jim Jordan from Ohio of the Judiciary Committee; and Rodney Davis from Illinois of the Administration Committee sent Attorney General Merrick Garland a letter inquiring about the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate the massive trove of documents leaked to investigative nonprofit organization ProPublica.
The lawmakers requested a staff-level briefing within a week in addition to access to all documents and communications regarding the Justice Department's efforts to enforce federal tax confidentiality law. The congressmen wrote they are particularly interested in information about how those efforts prevent IRS officials from leaking private tax information.
They also gave the Justice Department a one-week deadline to provide all records related to efforts to investigate the specific leak of tax information to ProPublica, including whether a criminal investigation has been launched.
“Leaks of tax information, particularly by government officials entrusted with caring for that sensitive information, are completely unacceptable,” the lawmakers told Garland. “Those responsible must be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.”
The congressmen contend in the letter it appears likely an IRS employee or federal officer was behind the leaked trove of data and branded it a “gross breach of public trust.”
The leaked documents in question revealed that many of the wealthiest people, even those who advocate for higher taxes on the wealthy, paid little to nothing in federal income taxes, though no wrongdoing was alleged. The lawmakers emphasized that regardless of who is affected by the leak, “Every American should have confidence that their personal tax information is secure and safe from privacy violations.”
“Especially as the Biden Administration’s proposed budget would vastly increase the size and staffing of the IRS, we are concerned about the potential for future leaks of sensitive tax information, particularly if such leaks are politically motivated or targeted against those who may take unpopular positions,” the trio wrote.
President Joe Biden’s proposed IRS overhaul includes allocating $80 billion to the IRS to increase staffing and give it increased authority to crack down on tax evasion. The administration anticipates it can raise $700 billion in revenue over the next decade by doing so. It would also increase the sensitive info the IRS has access to by requiring banks to report annual account inflows and outflows.
Garland was asked about the leak during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday and said he took the matter seriously.
“I very well remember what President Nixon did in the Watergate period,” the attorney general said. “The creation of enemies lists and the punishment of people through reviewing their tax returns. This is an extremely serious matter. People are entitled, obviously, to great privacy with respect to their tax returns.”
While leaking private individuals’ confidential tax information is a crime, it is not as clear that receiving or publishing it is. Therefore, ProPublica claims it acted in the public interest and believes its actions were legal.
Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho and ranking member of the Finance Committee, told the Washington Examiner on Thursday that the issue of security at the IRS is crucial as plans to overhaul it are considered.
“Before even considering additional funding, Congress and the American people need assurances that existing data at the IRS is guarded and secure,” Crapo said in a statement.
Jerry Dunleavy contributed to this report.
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