As the U.S. tax season began Monday, a former Internal Revenue Service contractor who leaked to the media the tax records of wealthy Americans including ex-President Donald Trump was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Ana C. Reyes, an appointee of President Joe Biden, handed down the maximum sentence to Charles Littlejohn, who pleaded guilty to unauthorized disclosure of tax returns and return information in October. Littlejohn gave The New York Times information on Trump—who is expected to face Biden in the November election—and shared with ProPublica data on Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and more.
While Reyes called the decision to release Trump’s filings “an attack on our constitutional democracy” and Littlejohn told the court that he “acted out of a sincere but misguided belief that I was serving the public,” others framed the 38-year-old’s move as heroic.
“This guy is a hero who showed us how the superrich steal from the American public,” Slate politics writer Alexander Sammon said Monday. “Naturally, the judge gave him a max sentence, claiming it was ‘a moral imperative’ to punish him as harshly as possible.”
Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project noted that “this whistleblower’s cause has been ignored by a LOT of people who have defended much more intrusive leaking. (Tax returns were public in the past, are in some countries now, and should be fully transparent—they’re inherently public information, unlike, e.g., John Podesta’s emails).”
People’s Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig similarly pointed out that “in Finland, these returns are public record available to anyone who wants to see them.”
After decades of presidential candidates voluntarily releasing income tax returns, Trump declined to do so—breaking his promise to make them public. The Republican also unsuccessfully fought to block Congress from receiving some of his tax records.
After the sentencing on Monday, Littlejohn’s attorney told reporters that his only statement was to thank the court for consideration of the case. Meanwhile, Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division said that his “sentence sends a strong message that those who violate laws intended to protect sensitive tax information will face significant punishment.”
When Littlejohn pleaded guilty last year, ProPublica declined to comment other than reiterating that the news outlet “doesn’t know the identity of the source who provided this trove of information on the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans.”
Charlie Stadtlander,a spokesperson for the Times, said last year that “we remain concerned when whistleblowers who provide information in the public interest are prosecuted. The Times‘ reporting on this topic played an important role in helping the public understand the financial ties and tax strategies of a sitting president—information that has long been seen as central to the knowledge that voters should have about the leader of our government and the candidates for that high office.
Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).