Economy /

WSJ: Will the Tax-Return Thief Get Off Easy? The man who stole IRS records of thousands wants a light sentence.

  |   By Polling+ Staff

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Will the Tax-Return Thief Get Off Easy?

The man who stole IRS records of thousands wants a light sentence.

The WSJ editors write:

“The man behind the largest heist of taxpayer data will be sentenced on Monday, and the question is whether he’ll pay for his violations of American privacy. The Justice Department has chosen to go easy on Charles Littlejohn, whose theft was politically motivated. But a multiyear sentence is appropriate and could deter future political raids on unpopular Americans. 

Judge Ana Reyes will sentence Mr. Littlejohn, the former federal contractor who pleaded guilty in October. Mr. Littlejohn doesn’t dispute that he stole tax records. He searched the Internal Revenue Service archive for Donald Trump’s returns in 2018, and he did it again in 2020 for filings from thousands of wealthy taxpayers, including Peter Thiel, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos.

He gave the files to the New York Times and progressive website ProPublica, which continues to publish data from the leaked returns. The leaks coincided with Democratic Party campaigns. The Trump tax info was published while Nancy Pelosi’s House was bombarding the President for not releasing his returns. ProPublica published details of billionaires while Sen. Elizabeth Warren pushed for a wealth tax. In a memo to the court last week, Mr. Littlejohn’s lawyers say he decided ‘the American public had a right to know the President’s tax information.’ But there is no statute that commands a candidate or President to release his returns. His lawyers say he also ‘became increasingly focused on the systemic inequality’ after viewing billionaires’ tax files, and he believed leaking them could ‘cause meaningful change to reform the tax system.’

In other words, his self-styled good intentions justify breaking the law. Some awful crimes in history have been justified by that logic.

On those grounds Mr. Littlejohn is seeking a sentence of four to 10 months. He tells the court in a sentencing memo that he took steps to protect his victims’ privacy, and ‘only approached reputable news organizations—the New York Times and ProPublica—that he knew would handle the information responsibly.’ Tell that to the people who had their financial lives exposed and used as political fodder.

Justice seems to have bought Mr. Littlejohn’s line, charging him with a single count of unauthorized disclosure of tax information, despite his thousands of victims and repeated actions to access and release the records. Prosecutors admitted in their own filing last week that the five-year prison term they’re seeking ‘would be the same today if he had leaked only a single return.’ But they don’t explain their decision to charge him with only one count in the first place.

When leakers of classified national secrets are caught, they typically receive serious punishment to deter others from doing the same. Mr. Littlejohn’s mass leak of tax returns for partisan purposes may be novel, but it’s as serious a violation as leaking state secrets. If IRS employees or contractors feel they can disclose private tax records and get little punishment, there will be more theft.

Judge Reyes can serve the public by giving Mr. Littlejohn the maximum sentence of 60 months and explaining that Justice let him off too easy.”

It would seem that for this to have happened in the first place means the IRS is being run as less than a tight ship.