On Oct. 12, former IRS contractor Charles Littlejohn pleaded guilty to disclosing tax return information without authorization.
You may remember that somebody leaked multiple years of President Donald Trump’s tax information to The New York Times before the 2020 election. On Sept. 27, 2020, the Times reported that it had “obtained tax-return data extending more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office.”
You may also remember that in June 2021, ProPublica reported that it had “obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years.”
Charles Littlejohn did that. As an IRS contractor working on the agency’s information technology, he evaded the many security measures used by the IRS to prevent employees from accessing data. He used a search technique to capture tax returns that matched certain characteristics instead of searching for individual names. Then he uploaded all the data to a private website, thus avoiding IRS detection when he downloaded everything to various devices and leaked the data to reporters. He did this over the course of a year, and according to the Department of Justice, he intentionally obstructed any future investigation “by deleting and destroying evidence of his disclosures.”
The case was investigated by the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration. The inspector general’s office, known as TIGTA, can’t bring charges itself. It can only make a criminal referral to the U.S. Department of Justice, and the DOJ prosecutors decide what charges to bring based on the evidence from the investigation.
For this massive, plainly political, completely illegal theft and leak of the private tax information of thousands of Americans including the president of the United States, prosecutors in the Biden Justice Department charged Charles Littlejohn with just one count of “disclosing tax return information without authorization.”
The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and prosecutors quickly announced a plea deal recommending that Littlejohn serve eight to 14 months in prison and pay a fine of up to $40,000. A judge will have to approve that plea agreement. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2024.
Rep. Jason Smith, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the Treasury Department and the IRS, called it “a slap on the wrist.”
An attorney for Trump, Alina Habba, said she believes Littlejohn did not act alone, but was part of a political operation to damage the former president just weeks before the 2020 election.
Who is Charles Littlejohn?
Journalist Paul Sperry reported for RealClearInvestigations that Littlejohn worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, “the most profitable government contractor in the world.” Littlejohn was working at the IRS on a contract with Booz Allen in 2018, and that’s when he stole the Trump tax data.
Later, Littlejohn stole and leaked the tax data of wealthy Americans including Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and Michael Bloomberg. ProPublica used the data as the basis for a series of articles titled, “The Secret IRS Files,” which revealed the private data to argue for taxing wealth, not just income. That’s something Democrat Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed.
Sperry reported that the IRS recently awarded a “lucrative” contract to Booz Allen for the modernization of the tax agency’s computer databases.
It would be bad enough if Littlejohn, who has made small donations to Democratic candidates, used his position as a contractor inside the IRS to promote legislation he liked and to sabotage candidates he hated. But it’s terrifyingly worse that after TIGTA investigated and cracked the case of what’s probably the worst security breach in IRS history, prosecutors in the Biden Justice Department charged Littlejohn with the absolute minimum possible and then made a plea deal for even less.
It was only six years ago that the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with a long list of conservative groups suing because they were unfairly harassed and questioned by the IRS, based only on their names and political views, when they applied for nonprofit, tax-exempt status.
A 2014 report found that IRS officials, including former Commissioner Douglas Shulman, former acting Commissioner Steven Miller, and Lois Lerner, who was the former head of the unit that reviewed applications for nonprofit status, had treated conservative groups unfairly beginning in 2010, then covered it up and misled Congress. No criminal charges were filed against any IRS officials, although President Obama did fire Miller after a 2013 internal IRS report determined that his inadequate management had led to an “inappropriate” focus on groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their name.
When the 2017 settlement was announced, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement saying he hoped the settlement “makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”
But the very next year, Littlejohn stole decades of Trump’s private tax information, and now he’s getting kid-glove treatment from the administration headed by the man who was vice president during the last IRS scandal over political targeting.
Adding insult to injury, your tax dollars, collected by the IRS, are paying for more contractors from Booz Allen to “modernize” the IRS databases.
The House Ways and Means Committee should take a very close look at that contract.