There are at least three major investigations of who gave a massive trove of confidential tax data to an investigative news site, but a former IRS lawyer believes the federal tax agency knew who did it soon after the leak.
“If an IRS employee accesses a tax return that he or she does not have a business reason to access, that unauthorized access is flagged in the system and the employee is subject to punishment, including termination. Every year, IRS employees are fired for accessing the tax returns of celebrities and ex-spouses,” former IRS senior attorney William Henck told The Epoch Times.
“There is no way an IRS employee could have accessed all of the tax returns at issue here without red flags popping up left and right. Someone must access a tax return before that return can be leaked, so unless this was an outside hack, it should be relatively simple to determine who leaked the returns,” Henck said.
Henck was referring to what Pro Publica, a nonprofit organization that specializes in investigative journalism, described earlier this year as a leak it received of “a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth—sometimes, even nothing.”
The IRS website includes numerous links to information to its “Unauthorized Access, Attempted Access, or Inspection of Taxpayer Records (UNAX)” to protect the confidentiality of tax information.
The government website makes clear that “the willful unauthorized access or inspection of taxpayer information—both electronic and paper—is a crime. Upon conviction, employees can be subject to penalties ranging from job loss to fines and prison terms.”
Henck was an IRS employee from 1987 to 2017. His final years as an attorney at the agency were full of controversy as he blew the whistle on what he viewed as agency coverups of targeting of Tea Party political activist groups, bullying of World War II veterans, and corporate abuse of federal tax credits.
In a related development, U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made public on July 28 letters they wrote a day earlier to Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA), and Charles P. Rettig, the IRS commissioner, concerning the Pro Publica leak.
“Because tax returns are filled with personal and sensitive information, federal law requires that tax ‘returns and return information shall be confidential,’” Jordan and Issa wrote.
“Congress has also made the unlawful disclosure of tax return information a felony. Despite these safeguards, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employee or employees—or someone with access to the returns—disclosed this confidential information to ProPublica in violation of the law.”
“This leak must be viewed in the context of certain Democrat leaders calling for higher taxes on wealthy Americans. In its articles, ProPublica described how the IRS data was leaked at ‘a crucial moment,’ because ‘wealth inequality has become one of the defining issues of our age,’” they stated.
“ProPublica also noted that the leak came at a time when ‘the President and Congress are considering the most ambitious tax increases in decades on those with high incomes.’ Leaks of tax information for political purposes harm the American people’s trust in the IRS and its ability to fairly administer federal tax laws.”
The two congressmen requested a confidential staff briefing on the investigations of the leak to Pro Publica. Inspectors general are appointed by the president, but they answer to Congress.
Jordan and Issa also noted that the judiciary panel is conducting its own investigation of the leak to Pro Publica, and “to assist the committee in conducting oversight of this incident, we request that the IRS immediately take appropriate measures to preserve all documents and communications referring or relating to the leak of tax return information to ProPublica, including all documents and communications referring or relating to any investigation into the leak.”
Jordan is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, while Issa is the top Republican on a key judiciary panel subcommittee.
Henck provided The Epoch Times with a copy of his IRS training records, which included multiple entries on his attendance at an annual “UNAX (Unauthorized Access) Mandatory Briefing” and his receipt of “UNAX eCertification.”
The Epoch Times asked the federal tax agency’s media relations office if the identity of the leaker(s) is known and if there is evidence the leak was the result of a hack by somebody outside of the IRS. The IRS hadn’t responded by press time.
The controversy over the Pro Publica leak comes at a time when President Joe Biden has proposed adding 87,000 employees to the IRS workforce, which would more than double its present size, including temporary and seasonal personnel.
Biden is also seeking big tax increases targeting the wealthiest individuals and is asking Congress to approve a new infrastructure spending bill expected to add approximately $1.5 trillion to the budget.
Earlier this year, Congress approved, and Biden signed into law, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan touted as needed to aid the country’s recovery from the pandemic caused by the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
According to Pro Publica’s calculation, based on the data it received, the total wealth of the richest 25 people—including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, entrepreneur Elon Musk, investor Warren Buffett, and Michael Bloomberg—in the United States equaled $1.1 trillion in 2020.
Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mtapscott and on Parler at @Mtapscott.