IRS, Still Searching for Leaker of Billionaires’ Tax Returns, Set to Hire 87,000 More Staff

By Emily Miller
Emily Miller
Emily Miller
Emily Miller is an award-winning investigative journalist and author in Washington, D.C. Her newsletter "Emily Posts News" gives readers original, exclusive reporting and insider analysis.
August 13, 2022 Updated: August 13, 2022

As Washington Democrats are about to hire 87,000 new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees, those who allegedly leaked the returns of multiple billionaires a year ago are still roaming free the halls of the tax agency. The $80 billion in additional IRS funding for “enforcement” passed the House on Aug. 12 and is on the fast track to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Since June 2021, the private and legally-protected information from the tax returns for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Peter Thiel, and others has been published continually by the liberal group ProPublica. Biden administration officials have testified to Congress that they are investigating the leaks, but it still hasn’t been solved.

“The billionaires’ leak to ProPublica was a test run, and they learned that there are no punishments for it. Now the IRS will have more money to do this,” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a taxpayer advocacy group, told The Epoch Times. “Pretty soon, it will be de facto that the tax returns of anyone the IRS or the Democrat president does not like can—and will—be leaked when the Democrats wish.”

The IRS Billionaire Leak

The first leak published on the billionaires’ tax rates was timed last year to support Biden’s proposed $1.8 trillion spending bill that hiked taxes for the wealthy. He also called on Congress to “increase investment in the IRS, while ensuring that the additional resources go toward enforcement against those with the highest income.” This morphed into the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” which passed the House Friday on a straight, party-line vote,  220–207.

The editors of ProPublica openly advocate for more funding for the IRS to increase audits. They said that “Republicans don’t want to give money to the IRS because they don’t want the IRS to do a job that is unpopular with certain Republicans,” referring to “wealth distribution.” The endless stories on the private details of the finances of successful Americans is intended to convince the public that the wealthy should pay more.

ProPublica will not release or give its source for what it calls the “secret IRS files.” It says they have received “a vast amount of information. It’s not just tax returns. It’s also things like records of stock trades, information that is sent to the IRS about financial activities.”

Senate Republicans Push Back

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, filed an amendment (pdf) to try to fix the IRS leaking during the votes last weekend on the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Crapo’s spokeswoman said the amendment, which did not get a vote, was directed at addressing the leaks of individual taxpayer data to the “pro-tax media group ProPublica.” It would have given funds to the IRS to further privacy protections against leaks and establish “universal audit trails” to track who within and outside the IRS has access to personal taxpayer information.

Who Is Getting Audited

According to the CATO Institute, “the IRS currently has 82,000 employees and the legislation would boost the number by roughly 87,000.” The think tank reports that $46 billion of the $80 billion increased funding will go to enforcement.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tried to tamp down the reporting that the 87,000 new IRS workers would be auditing regular people. She sent a public letter (PDF) on Wednesday to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, directing him that “audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for households making under $400,000 annually.” Yellen told the commissioner to use the funds to “pursue a robust attack on the tax gap by targeting crucial challenges, like large corporations, high-net-worth individuals” where there is “huge revenue potential.”

On Thursday, Crapo pushed back on this claim that a bigger IRS would only target the super wealthy. Crapo pointed out that all 50 Democrats voted against his efforts to reign in the power.

“When I offered my amendment to simply make it clear that the $80 billion being given to the IRS—six times its current annual budget—could not be utilized to audit people making less than $400,000, the most they would agree to was to say they did not ‘intend’ to audit them,” he said.

Status of Leak Investigation

The Republicans on the Senate committee continue to try to get Biden officials to find the IRS leakers. Most recently, Crapo sent Yellen a letter demanding action. In return, her staff sent a letter back on June 7 that said the illegal act “must be taken extremely seriously” and the secretary “continues to be deeply concerned about this matter.”

The Biden administration has said over the past year that multiple offices are investigating, including the Department of Justice, the Office of Inspector General, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

“They aren’t even trying to find the leakers. They certainly know who it is. They have to. They know what computers they were on and who was at that computer at various times. How could you possibly not know—unless you have zero capacity to detect this,” said Norquist. “This is stolen stuff, and the IRS hasn’t even asked for it to be returned.”

His organization, ATR, put together this timeline of the Biden officials changing answers on the leak investigation, with Rettig most recently claiming there is no proof the files came from his agency.

But Norquist said, “The person who leaked had access to the whole structure there. Many years of material. And then picked people individually—targeted by wealth and political interest.”

IRS History of Abuse

The IRS has a history of abusing its power to benefit liberal causes and politicians. Lois Lerner led the agency’s tax-exempt division that targeted conservative groups from 2010 to 2012. She infamously invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress. But the facts were clear that she directed her staff to delay tax-exempt status applications and harass center-right groups to weaken them going into the midterm election.

“That was the IRS destroying a political movement—the Tea Party,” Norquist said.  “If they did that to Black Lives Matter,  and they couldn’t raise money from corporate America, they couldn’t function. Imagine the outrage that would have rightfully flowed from the Left if that happened to their side of the political spectrum.  Oddly it only happens to Republicans.”

Lerner was never charged with a crime (no one at the IRS was) and she was allowed to retire with her $100,000 annual government pension. The IRS got away with targeting people based on their conservative principles. Now there will be twice as many tax men and some Republicans question whether these new agents will only be auditing the returns of billionaires.

Emily Miller
Emily Miller is an award-winning investigative journalist and author in Washington, D.C. Her newsletter "Emily Posts News" gives readers original, exclusive reporting and insider analysis.