A contractor for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been charged with leaking tax return information from a senior government official and wealthy taxpayers to two news organizations, according to an indictment unsealed in federal court in Washington. The contractor, Charles Edward Littlejohn, allegedly stole tax returns and other information of a senior government official and thousands of wealthy individuals, dating back more than 15 years. He then provided this information to The New York Times and ProPublica between 2018 and 2020. The leaked information formed the basis of numerous articles published by both news organizations.
The indictment did not name the official, the other taxpayers, or the news organizations involved. However, sources familiar with the situation revealed that the official is former President Donald J. Trump, and the news organizations are The New York Times and ProPublica. Mr. Littlejohn, who worked for a company contracted by the IRS from 2017 to 2021, is charged with one count of unauthorized disclosure of tax returns and return information. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The leak of tax information, particularly regarding the minimal amount wealthy taxpayers paid, sparked outrage among Republicans who believed that the disclosures were intended to support the Biden administration’s policies of increasing taxes on the wealthiest individuals. Trump’s tax returns have long been sought after for insights into his wealth and business practices. The leaks also raised concerns about the IRS’s handling of taxpayer data and its potential political motivations. A report from the Government Accountability Office highlighted issues with the IRS’s safeguarding of taxpayer data and identified contractors as a potential weakness in protecting records.
Despite the indictment and ongoing investigations, the IRS has been implementing new protocols and protections to enhance the security of taxpayer data. However, the leaks have placed the agency and the Biden administration on the defensive, as they faced criticism over the slow pace of the investigation and the lack of information about how such sensitive data could have been leaked. The leaks also fueled calls by Democrats for the enactment of a wealth tax to prevent wealthy individuals from utilizing financial strategies to reduce their tax burdens.