WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa),
ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led an effort to press the
Justice Department and FBI for details about any investigation into the
disclosure of sensitive taxpayer records to the news media. Joining his
letter to the Justice Department and FBI are Judiciary Committee colleagues
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ben Sasse
(R-Neb.) Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
self-reporting nature of our system of taxation makes it vitally important that
taxpayers have trust that their personal information will be treated
respectfully and confidentially as they comply with our nation’s tax
laws. In return, the government must protect their records to maintain
that trust. The Internal Revenue Code places such high importance on taxpayer
privacy that criminal and civil penalties are specifically identified for the
unauthorized access or disclosure of that information,” the senators wrote.
senators sought details on the scope of the unauthorized access of confidential
taxpayer information, whether a possible breach originated at the IRS and
whether it was the result of an external hack or a deliberate leak from within
the agency. Further, the senators inquire about the timing of any possible
breach, when the government became aware of it and steps being taken to protect
any investigation from political pressure.
Honorable Merrick Garland
Department of Justice
Honorable Christopher A. Wray
Bureau of Investigation
Attorney General Garland and Director Wray:
June 9, 2021, Attorney General Garland appeared before the Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies and testified
to the recent disclosure of confidential tax information in ProPublica’s report
titled, “The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How
the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax.”
The article states that “ProPublica has
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.” This strongly indicates that the foundation
for the article is taxpayer information that originated from the Internal
Revenue Service (IRS) and that this information is protected by law from
unauthorized access or disclosure.
Attorney General Garland stated, “This is an extremely serious matter.
People are entitled, obviously, to great privacy with respect to their tax
6103 of the Internal Revenue Code provides for the protection of taxpayer
information and prevents information that taxpayers are required to share with
the IRS from disclosure except for specific exceptions. The self-reporting nature of our system of
taxation makes it vitally important that taxpayers have trust that their
personal information will be treated respectfully and confidentially as they
comply with our nation’s tax laws. In
return, the government must protect their records to maintain that trust. The Internal Revenue Code places such high
importance on taxpayer privacy that criminal and civil penalties are
specifically identified for the unauthorized access or disclosure of that
information. Internal Revenue Code
section 7213 specifies that willful unauthorized disclosure of returns or
return information by an employee or former employee of the IRS is a felony. Code section 7431 allows a taxpayer to
institute action in Federal district court for damages where there is
unauthorized inspection or disclosure.
to questions from Ranking Member Grassley regarding the apparent breach of
taxpayer data, IRS Commissioner Rettig in an appearance before the Finance
Committee on June 8, 2021, noted:
share the concerns of every American for the sensitive and private nature, and
confidential nature of the information the IRS receives. … I think that trust
and confidence in the Internal Revenue Service is sort of the bedrock of asking
people and requiring people to provide financial information. And, we have, as
I said, turned it over to the appropriate investigators, external and internal.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is likely one of the external
investigators referenced by Commissioner Rettig, and the Department of Justice
would be involved in any prosecution resulting from any investigation into this
apparent breach of taxpayer information.
Accordingly, to better understand what the Department of Justice and FBI
have done to investigate this matter, please provide answers to the following
questions no later than June 23, 2021.
- Has the
FBI or the Department of Justice engaged in any formal investigation of or
related to the possible disclosure of taxpayer data to ProPublica?
- Has it
been confirmed whether or not any information provided to ProPublica
originated at the IRS?
- What is
the full scope of confidential taxpayer information that was provided to
ProPublica or otherwise improperly accessed or disclosed?
taxpayer information that originated at the IRS was provided to
ProPublica, was that information deliberately leaked from within the IRS,
or was it stolen as the result of a data breach?
- If the
information provided to ProPublica was the result of a breach or hack of
the IRS, when did the hack or breach occur, how long has the IRS known
about the hack, and what was the full scope of information compromised?
- With what
other Departments or agencies are the Department of Justice and FBI
coordinating in their investigation?
specific steps will you take to protect the investigation from improper
addition, no later than June 23, please schedule a briefing with our staffs
relating to this matter. Thank you for your prompt attention.
U.S. Congress. U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
“Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on the Fiscal 2022 Budget Request for
the Internal Revenue Service.” (Date: 6/8/21). Text from: CQ Congressional